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  • Writer's pictureDr. Doug Pooley

Critical Importance of Proper Fitting Footwear

We live in a world of flip-flops and running shoes. It is all about comfort and style with very little regard to structure and support. It blows me away when I see a patient come into the clinic wearing a Gucci T-shirt at $150.00, a pair of Versace jeans at $300.00 …with a $5.00 pair of rubber flip flops. Did you realize that by the time you are 50, you and your feet have travelled an average of 70,000 miles. Of all of our various body components, I believe that the health of our feet is probably the most neglected and yet proper foot function is the key to mobility, balance, optimal weight distribution and postural stability. Independent of the brain, the foot is the most complex body part and a beautifully constructed network of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons designed to perfectly facilitate movement and balanced weight distribution. The foot is considered one of the mirrors of health with many disease entities such as diabetes, circulatory and neurological disturbances being reflected in degenerative changes evidenced in the feet. Quite simply, the quality of the life that you lead is directly proportional to the efficiency of your mobility and the key player here is your feet.

Did you know that all ankle, knee, hip and back stability and health is impacted by the integrity of walking mechanics and it all starts with your feet? It is just logical… if there is a flaw in the way you walk, over time that insult will impact the function and stability of all of the other joints which comprise that functional chain. This ultimately leads to the breakdown of various joint complexes that form that chain, with resultant deterioration in the form of tendonitis, bursitis, joint instability and eventual arthritis. There is compelling evidence to demonstrate the impact that poor or worn footwear has upon the health of your feet and the deteriorative implications to other parts of the lower limb, pelvis and spine.

You would think that shoes were a relatively modern invention, but a June 8th article from “Livescience” notes a recent study that demonstrates that man has actually worn shoes for over 40,000 years. Wearing shoes changes the way humans walk and how their bodies distribute weight. If you wear shoes regularly, (as most modern humans do), those changes end up reflected in your bones and ligaments.   

Susan Cachel, an anthropologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said science has known about the way wearing shoes affects feet since the early 20th century. Researchers have found several differences between feet that regularly wear shoes and those that don't.

For instance, wearing tight shoes can lead to bunions, which are painful enlargements of the bone or tissue in the big toe he said. People who don't wear shoes have wider feet and bigger gaps between their big toe and the other four. And women who spend a lot of time in high heels wind up with smaller calf muscles.

Although there can be functional and structural implications to wearing high heels over extended periods of time, the bigger problem lies not so much in the type of shoe you wear, but rather the fit of the footwear you choose. It is simply incongruent to buy shoes on-line unless you have tried them on previously, and then are you absolutely sure that you are purchasing the same shoe? This is both unfair to the retailer whose time you took to try on the shoe and a real potential for jeopardy to you the purchaser as just mentioned. By far the more serious concern lies in how consumers generally purchase footwear today. With most shoes now being manufactured out of country, there arises concern for me as to the consistency of quality when it comes to fit as well as structural integrity of the product itself. The adage: “If it looks good, it must be good”, does not always add up, especially when it comes to shoes. It is just logical that a properly sized shoe will likely last longer, give better support and ultimately provide better value than cheaper poorly fitted footwear.

  • I firmly believe that by far the best purchase you can make for the structural health and wellbeing of your spine and lower limbs is properly fitted shoes. As published in the November 30th edition of “Irish News Online”. Beware of ankle issues with prolonged flip-flop and sandal wearing as there is no ankle support in most of these shoes, and they can leave you prone to trips and falls. If you love your flat flip-flops or sandals, try to only wear them to the beach or out somewhere that doesn’t require much walking and wear an athletic shoe to run errands around town.

  • And about those athletic shoes… wearing a newer pair will ensure that the shoes have not worn out of their supportive and shock absorption features. Also, choose athletic shoes that are appropriate for the sport or activity you’re participating in. Running shoes are for running, cycling shoes are for cycling, tennis shoes are for tennis, etc. These shoes are specifically engineered to not only help with your performance in these sports and for the unique conditions of the environment, but they are also designed to be the best types of shoes for your feet as you participate in these activities.

In closing,

the take-away here is simple: Buy the best shoes you can afford. Purchase shoes appropriate for the activity you are engaged in. Throw out worn out shoes, they are bad for you. Always purchase your footwear from a trained footwear professional at a “fitting” shoe store.

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