Have you lived most of your life not really thinking about your feet until they begin to scream at you? If you’re looking to avoid foot pain, as well as many other aches and pains in your legs, knees, pelvis and lower back, what are the best shoes for your feet?
In an ideal world, the answer would be to wear no shoes at all. That’s because when we are barefoot, our body stands in its most natural position, allowing us to balance our weight evenly over all of our joints. However, being barefoot is not practical or even the best choice for most of us, so we must find the right footwear that will help, and not hurt, our feet and our body's alignment.
Studies confirm that many types of foot pain and back pain – including plantar fasciitis, hammertoes, shin splints, neuromas, ankle instability and more – are the result of wearing the wrong kinds of shoes over a long period of time. (See the following studies: "Footwear: The Primary Cause of Foot Disorders" and "Fashion and Foot Deformation" by William Rossi, and "Athletic Footwear: Unsafe due to perceptual illusions" by Steven Robbins and Gerald Gouw.)
Think about it. Have you ever worn a fancy pair of shoes to a wedding, only to switch to something more comfortable that you can dance in? Or do you immediately take your shoes off when you get home so you can relax? If so, you know have been letting fashion dictate your shoe choices.
So if you want to avoid foot pain and body aches from poor alignment, what are the best shoes for your feet?
1. Foot-Shaped Toe Box
Almost all shoes push the toes together, into a space that is narrower than the ball of the foot. This is our fashion: a triangular shape that compromises the ability of the toes to grasp and balance. When these functions are limited, our legs and upper bodies are forced to make compensations for the instability of our toes. This results in our gait being less balanced and less efficient. And wearing shoes that are too narrow in the toe box can also cause our feet to become misshapen over time.
Instead, look for a shoe that is very wide and roomy in the toe box. We should be wearing foot-shaped shoes, not shoes that ask the foot to conform to it.
To tell if a shoe is wide enough, remove the insole and step on it. If the sides of your feet are hitting the edge of the insole at any point, it is not wide enough for your foot. If the insole does not come out of the shoe, turn the shoe upside down and stand on the bottom of the shoe if you can. If your foot edges to the side, the style is may not be wide enough. See "THe Shoe Liner Test" below.
2. Flexible Sole
Because we want our shoes to mimic bare feet, it’s important that you be able to roll through your foot as you walk. That means that the sole of the shoe needs to be able to flex with your foot as you walk. This allows the muscles in your feet to respond to the ground, strengthening the arch as well as increasing strength and flexibility in the feet. Rigid soles and arch support may feel comfortable (like a cast does on a broken arm), but contributes to muscle weakness and increased dependency on supports.
3. Zero Heel Elevation
Most shoes have a 2:1 heel elevation, causing body weight shift onto your toes, which aren’t designed to bear weight. And because you’re tipped slightly forward, the rest of your body adjusts to prevent you from falling forward and challenging your natural alignment. Heel elevation decreases or eliminates any normal gait by compromising the rolling action of the foot.
4. Zero Toe Spring
In some shoes, toe spring elevates the toe box above the supporting surface (the floor). It is an attempt to improve your ability to spring off your toes and help prevent falls. The tendons of the toes are balanced on all four sides: top, bottom and sides. Toe spring pulls more on the top tendons and can cause leg imbalance and gait problems.
5. The Upper
Keeping the shoe on the foot is the responsibility of the upper. If this connection is a single strap (think of a flip-flop), the toes must grip to keep the shoe on while walking forward. This also occurs with a backless shoe (mules, slides). Notice how your toes grip as you walk with a shoe that has an unstable upper, and how that grip travels up the leg, into the ankles, quads, hip flexors. Hammertoe may develop from this repetitive action, in addition to unecessary gripping up the leg chain.
Here are some resources to help you begin your shoe research:
Northwest Foot and Ankle Ray McClanahan, DPM click here
Nutritious Movement, Katy Bowmann, MS https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/?s=shoes
Natural Footgear, Robyn Hughes, ND and Marty Hughes, DO https://naturalfootgear.com/blogs/shoe-footgear-reviews
Or, for an individual consultation, schedule a foot care appointment with Lori Smith.
Want a personal evaluation of your shoes and recommendations on what would work best for you? Schedule an individual foot care appointment today.
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