Wearing flat shoes for a year has made many women's feet spread

Wearing flat shoes for a year has made many women's feet spread

Can ‘TOE-GA’ get you back into heels? Wearing flat shoes for a year has made many women’s feet spread — which means squeezing into stilettos is agony. So is the surprising cure yoga for your feet…

  • Some 66 per cent of women in the UK say their feet have spread since lockdown
  • Lucia Ferrari asks experts for their advice after struggling to wear high heels  
  • Podiatrist Steven Thomas says ‘toe-ga’ exercises can be effective

The problem first became uncomfortably apparent a few weeks ago at my daughter’s Confirmation. I was wearing my favourite comfy, nude Diane von Furstenberg mid-heels. My go-to smart shoes have a modest 2 in heel — enough to elevate without being excruciating. Or so it was before the pandemic.

Halfway through the service, my toes were so scrunched and painful I had to slip off my heels — and had a real panic-inducing struggle to squeeze them back on again when I had to stand to take Communion.

Could all those weeks and months of wearing slippers or going barefoot during lockdown really have made my feet bigger?

Like many women, I had kicked off more structured shoes during the lockdowns. After all, when you can get away with slippers or sliders, why wouldn’t you?

Lucia Ferrari asks experts for advice on easing back into wearing heels, after some 66 per cent of women in the UK say their feet have spread since lockdown. Pictured: Lucia with podiatrist Steven Thomas

The trouble is, as I’ve found, there are consequences to comfort. And I’m not the only one struggling to slip into stilettos again.

Since lockdown, some 66 per cent of women say their feet have spread, according to a survey conducted in March by UK problem feet shoe specialists Sole Bliss. Not only have we forgotten how to walk in heels, many of us are unable to wedge our feet into them in the first place.

Some women are simply choosing to ignore the problem by decluttering. Charity shops are currently bursting with designer heels.

But at a diminutive 5 ft 2 in, I was not about to do away with the extra height. My 50th birthday family dinner in Portofino was fast approaching and heels were an important part of my carefully planned outfit.

I needed to take drastic action. After all, if I couldn’t wear them on a London pavement, Italian cobblestoned quaysides would prove disastrous for me — especially in the heat.

‘Wearing heels after lockdown is a bit like trying to get back in your jeans after having a baby,’ explains Emma McConnachie of the Royal College of Podiatry.

Podiatric surgeon Kaser Nazir at Harley Street foot clinic Podogo, told Lucia (pictured) the foot ‘spreads’ due to the loss of intrinsic support 

‘We have more than 100 muscles and tendons in the foot plus 26 bones. It’s not surprising that it’s going to be uncomfortable as our feet need to readjust.’

Emma suggests practising walking around the house in heels for 15 minutes at a time, telling me it doesn’t matter whether you’re at your desk or even unloading the dishwasher.

Next I visit consultant podiatric surgeon Kaser Nazir at Harley Street foot clinic Podogo. After a gait analysis and discussion of my symptoms — my foot feeling wider, as well as toe, arch and calf pain — he explains I might need to go up a shoe size to feel comfy in heels again, thus rendering my entire collection redundant. I was keen to find out if there was any alternative.

‘Most of us have desensitised our feet by wearing trainers or flats,’ says Mr Nazir. ‘Being more static at a desk and no walking due to the lack of commute can result in less lymphatic drainage, which can mean more swelling.

‘When the foot is barefoot, it “spreads” due to the loss of intrinsic support. The foot can also lengthen as the arch drops, so we may have gone up a half or whole shoe size as well.

Podiatrist Steven Thomas said simple ‘toe-ga’ exercises can take up to three months to be effective. Pictured: Lucia with podiatrist Steven Thomas

‘Calf muscles are tighter when you wear high heels. Post-lockdown these muscles have relaxed. So wearing a heel again can make you aware of them — especially if you’re not used to regular exercise.’ Podiatrist Steven Thomas, also at Podogo, gives me a set of simple exercises — or ‘toe-ga’ (which is like yoga for the toes and feet) — to re-train them.

These range from toe scrunching (which involves picking up a tissue with your toes) to heel raises (where you stand on the tips of your toes) and wall push-ups (which gently stretch the calf muscles — see box above right for how to do all these). He assures me they only take ten minutes a day but can take up to three months to be effective.

HOW TO RETRAIN YOUR TOOTSIES

To strengthen the arch, begin with toe scrunching. Place a tissue underneath your foot, scrunch up your toes and pick up the tissue with them. Repeat for a minute or so on each foot.

I found this quite painful at first — and occasionally it causes cramps — but it gets easier the more you do it.

To work your calf muscles, try heel raises. While resting against a wall or the back of a chair for support (if you need to), stand with your feet hip width apart.

Slowly rise up onto your toes and slowly come back down. Try to do it for a couple of minutes.

Finally, do wall push-ups to stretch the Achilles tendon. Facing the wall, put both hands on it at shoulder height. Place one foot in front of the other. Your front foot should be approximately 30 cm away from the wall.

Bend your front leg and keep the back leg straight. Lean into the stretch until you feel a tightening in the calf in your back leg. Relax and repeat ten times.

Repeat the above but bring your back leg forward and slightly bend the knee. Again lean into the stretch until you feel tightening in the calf of your back leg. Relax your leg and repeat this ten times.

With only three weeks before my birthday, I need extra help. So I ask my glamorous friend, aesthetic doctor Galyna Selezneva, who is always in heels, for her tips. She advises me to improve lymphatic drainage to keep swelling to a minimum. ‘Drink at least two litres of water a day, sweep a dry body brush every morning from the ankle to the groin and don’t over-do the coffee intake,’ she says. ‘And start with something like a kitten heel. Nothing too high.’

Armed with this information, I set about doing my toe-ga, wearing my DVF heels for ten minutes a day and having regular pedicures — which pedicurist Holly Wolff, from the Neville salon in London’s Belgravia, explains will help with the toe pain when wearing heels. ‘Hard skin underneath the toes can be painful — especially when scrunched into a pointy toe,’ she says. ‘File them every other day at home and use a good heel balm.’

For example, you can use Margaret Dabbs’ Pure Cracked Heel Treatment Balm (£18, margaretdabbs.co.uk) or Nails Inc Sole Heeler Peeling Foot Mask (£5, nailsinc.com) — sales of which spiked during lockdown. Lymphatic drainage therapist Tine Hagelquist also recommends Deep Freeze Cold Spray (£4.25, boots.com), which helps with any pain and swelling post heel-wearing.

I rate Legology’s Sun-Lite Tinted Leg Cream (£38, legology.co.uk), which gives a lovely elegant sheen as well as de-puffing with its blend of anti-inflammatory and lymph-stimulating ingredients.

Three weeks later and my toes definitely feel less scrunched and my arches not so achy when I slip on my DVF heels for my big birthday bash. So much so, I still have them on at 1am when doing a conga around the hotel piano bar with my 80-year-old mother.

I like slumming it in slippers as much as the next woman but there are some occasions, dresses and venues when we all want to walk tall. So I’m relieved to say you can fix your lockdown feet — one step at a time.

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