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How to keep high heels from cramping your (running) style

Alison Heilig

Ladies, I know you love them, but I have to break your heart on this one. High heels are often linked to the biggest lower leg and foot complaints among runners.

As the kids go back to school, the fall race season begins ramping up. We find ourselves getting back into our normal workout routine — or perhaps starting a new one — and your daily footwear can impact your running goals.

What happens when I wear heels?

The positioning of your foot inside those fabulous shoes causes your body weight to be unevenly distributed on your foot. Most of your body weight shifts onto your teeny-tiny toe bones — poor little guys — as if you were walking around on your tiptoes all day. When your body feels this unbalanced in this way, it compensates by tightening up your calves, Achilles tendon and all the muscles of your hips and back.

So why does it hurt when I take them off and run?

By the end of the day, the muscle strain and fatigue can be pretty intense. The minute you get home, you take off your shoes and feel the relief, right? Well, that’s where the problem actually begins.

The muscles and connective tissues in our bodies are elastic and springy. They are meant to stretch and tighten; however, when those tissues are forced to spend a prolonged period of time in a tightened or abnormally shortened position then asked to abruptly stretch for a few hours, they get cranky and inflamed. Ripping those heels off at home and going for a run or just standing in the kitchen prepping dinner can be worse for your muscles than wearing the heels all day.

In other words, what may feel like pure bliss when you yank off those stilettos may actually be way too much of stretch for your overly tight muscles and tendons. The impact of running 3 miles on top of that extra stretching gives you a recipe for disaster.

What about the long-term consequences?

That’s the scary part. Five things happen over time:

  • your muscles and tendons can become chronically shorted, thick and inflexible, ultimately losing their ability to “bounce back.”
  • too much abrupt stretching can lead to Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and other issues.
  • your leg muscles may begin to bulge and cramp. Ever had a Charlie horse wake you up at midnight? Yowza!
  • inflexibility and tightness can compromise the range of motion in your ankle leaving you susceptible to ankle strains and sprains.
  • odd foot and ankle positioning can cause callouses, potentially lead to stress fractures and cause unsightly spider veins due to poor blood flow.

But I can’t live without my heels!!

Alright, alright! Some studies have shown women who wear heels may experience fewer issues if they run in the morning, before strapping on heels, rather than the evening, once you’ve kicked off those suckers. You could also try going with a lower or chunkier heel.

If you don’t want to wear a lower heel, or still notice muscle and tendon tightness, be sure to take time throughout the day to stretch your calf muscles and feet.

Here’s a few quick stretches all you heel lovers can sprinkle into your day:

  1. Stair calf stretch: Stand barefoot on the edge of a step, with your weight on the balls of your feet and your heels hanging off the step. Keep your legs straight as you slowly lower your heels, pause and rise back up.
  2. Stair soleus stretch:  Same as above but bend your knees and alternate lowering one heel at a time.
  3. Ball rolling: Spend a little time rolling out your calves and feet on a small, hard ball. Already feeling the pain? Use a frozen bottle of water instead.

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