If the Shoe Fits – How to Choose the Right Footwear for Healthy Feet
The inimitable Bette Midler once famously quipped: “I firmly believe that with the right footwear, one can conquer the world”.
While I’m willing to begrudgingly accept the possibility that she may not have been referring to her deeply held love of podiatry, she might nevertheless be on to something. I mean, even Kim Jong Un invested in secret lifting shoes in an attempt to give him an edge in nuclear negotiations. What more evidence do we need to prove footwear’s central role in global affairs!
Even if world domination isn’t quite your thing, and you’re more concerned with conquering your regular jogging or power-walking circuit, there can be no denying Midler’s wisdom: what you put on your feet can play a significant role in helping you achieve your goals. More importantly, making poor shoe choices can cause pain and damage to bones, joints and supportive tissue, or exacerbate pre-existing issues such as arthritis, shin-splints, corns, bunions, achilles pain and more. Lest you think that such problems might be limited to your feet, “committing shoe-icide” as some like to call it, can alter your gait, with flow-on ill-effects all the way up your spine.
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to ensure that you don’t put your foot in it. Here are some crucial things to remember:
The Right Shoes for the Job
You wouldn’t wear a tux to a pool party, would you? By the same token, matching the shoe to the purpose is critical:
- If you’re engaging in sporting pursuits, make sure that you wear the shoes designed for the relevant activity. Each sport involves unique foot mechanics, and the appropriate shoes are designed with those in mind. You’re going to look ridiculous playing tennis in footy boots, anyway!
- If your occupation requires long periods of standing, or you’ve been lured into the standing desk craze, ensure your shoes have plenty of cushion support and a low to medium heel.
- Conversely, if you spend most of your day sitting, something comfortable, light and breathable is your best option.
Don’t Be a Slave to Fashion
- Ladies, I know you’re going to wear high heels at times. I get it. But if you must wear them, try not to do it when you’re standing for hours. If you have to walk from the car to the restaurant table and back again, it’s really ok, but if you wear them the whole of Cup Day, I promise you we’ll both know about it. My advice… try to limit them to occasions that won’t require much moving around or extended periods of standing and, if you do, be upfront with me. It’s easier to fix what hurts if I know why it started…
- Ballet flats might be cute, but really the only thing they support is your appearance. Their best use is to keep in your handbag for when the heels get too much, which is actually not a bad place to keep them. I hope you’ll forgive me.
- Thongs are great for the beach or the pool, but ideally not for walking the streets. The real problem is that having to grip when you walk just to keep them on not only alters the way your foot interacts with the ground. It can overwork the small intrinsic muscles that live between your metatarsal bones. And when they get overworked, they hurt!
The Perfect Fit
Identifying the right type of shoe is half the battle. The next critical issue is getting the right fit:
- Your feet tend to swell later in the day, so this is the best time to try on new shoes. Give them a whirl in the morning and you might find yourself in tight situation when the sun goes down.
- Your feet change shape and size over time, and it’s completely normal to have two feet of slightly different sizes. Even though you know your shoe size, it pays to re-measure your feet every time you visit the store.
- Pay particular attention to the toe box. You want to ensure that it is long enough to allow at least a centimetre between the longest toe and the front of the shoe, and wide enough that the toes are not compacted or overlapping. Furthermore, the shoe should bend easily at the toe, but remain rigid at the arch to achieve the right balance of support and flexibility. High heels, I’m talking to you again!
- When trying on shoes, wear good fitting socks that are appropriate for the activity for which the shoes will be worn.
- Unless you know exactly what you’re getting, avoid purchasing shoes online as there’s no way to try them out and you’re more likely to suck it up and suffer through ill-fitting shoe torture, rather than go through the hassle of returning them.
- Breaking in periods are one of my favourite myths. Breaking in periods for shoes are to a podiatrist what tooth fairies are to a dentist. We just smile quietly and get on with things. So when the admittedly well-spoken salesperson tries to explain that the shoes will feel good once you’ve worn them for a bit, don’t listen. The right shoe should be comfortable the moment you put it on. By all means, walk around a little to put them through their paces. However, if they don’t feel great right away, they’re the wrong pair for you. In fact, in some cases, particularly heels where the padding bottoms out after a few days, how it feels in the shop might be the best it ever feels, so take care out there.
Keep them Fresh
Wearing worn-out shoes can be just as harmful as a poor fit. You’ll know it’s time for a new pair If:
- The heel is wearing away. Your body relies on the heel planting firmly and straight. A worn heel can result in the foot planting at the wrong angle, causing your arch to roll awkwardly.
- The material has given to the point that there is too much room and your foot is slipping somewhat.
- The arches are starting to flex, or the soles are worn and thinning.
With some common sense and care, you can ensure that your footwear not only looks the part but keeps you safe and healthy. If you’d like specific, tailored advice on the right shoe for you and your needs, feel free to book in an appointment with one of our expert Podiatrists. We’re here to help. And if you’re feeling really keen, talk to us about lacing techniques…