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home : columns : ask the doctors September 30, 2020

7/29/2020 7:38:00 AM
Wearing heels damages foot muscles

Dear Doctor: I'm 44 years old, and after wearing high heels to work for the last 20 years, I've lost flexibility in my feet. It also seems to be affecting my balance. Can you recommend foot exercises that can help?

Dear Reader: Considering the important work they do, our feet don't get the attention they deserve. And yet, these complex systems of muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments form the base from which we balance, bear the full weight of our bodies and carry us through the thousands of steps in our daily lives.

One of the best things you can do for your feet is to give them a break from high heels, even just for a few days per week. Not only do high heels shift you forward and force your full weight onto the balls of your feet, they prevent you from properly using the muscles of your feet (and your legs) as you walk. Speaking of which, one of the best exercises for getting feet into shape is exactly that -- walking. Get a pair of supportive and flexible athletic shoes, and take a stroll. Be conscious of rolling through the foot, heel to toe, in a deliberate but natural motion. Don't be surprised if this feels strange or even awkward at first. We tend to treat our feet as solid blocks rather than the intricate and articulated wonders that they actually are.

When it comes to a specific foot workout, exercises that take just a few minutes a day can make a difference.

-- Toe lift: Stand barefoot and, without straining, slowly and gently raise all 10 toes off the floor. Hold for a few seconds, then lower again. When you're comfortable with this move, add some more repetitions, this time fanning your toes apart as you lift and lower them.

-- Heel lift: Engage your calf muscle and gradually raise your heel so that you balance on the ball of your foot. Hold for a few seconds, then gently lower again. If your ankles are strong, you can slowly and deliberately roll the ball of your foot from side to side and in a circular motion, which engages a range of muscles and -- bonus -- gives a nice massage. This exercise can be done either seated or standing.

-- Toe point: Extend your leg and, in a fluid motion that starts at the heel and rolls through the arch and down to the toes, gently extend your foot. Point your toes, hold for a few seconds, and then reverse the movement until you're flexing your heel.

-- Toe dome: Standing barefoot, gently grip the floor with all five toes of each foot, as though you're going to pick up a dollar bill. You'll form a small dome when you're doing this one right. Hold for a few seconds and then release.

Don't try to do too much all at once. Work your way up to eight to 10 repetitions of each exercise. With just five minutes a day, you'll soon regain strength and flexibility, and your feet will thank you.

Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Elizabeth Ko, M.D., is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Send your questions to, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1450, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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