Put Your Best Foot ForwardApr 30, 2018 04:58PM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch
For some, shoes are a guilty shopping pleasure while for others, they're an everyday necessity. There is no denying, though, the impact that a good pair of shoes can have. Whether you lean toward the side of fashion or you prefer the comfort of function, shoes are an important part of our daily lives.
Jeffrey Kann, MD, of Tri-State Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, has specialized in foot and ankle injuries and fractures for more than 26 years. He said that more than 85 percent of foot problems he sees are due to wearing the wrong shoe.
“The high price of high fashion shoe wear (for example, high heels and pointy toe boxes) is that the shoe ‘wins’ every time,” he explained. “We are born with a rectangular foot, so if ill-fitting shoes are worn often enough, your foot will conform to the shoe, causing irreversible damage including bunion deformity, hammertoes, callouses and even arthritis in the joints.”
When heel height increases, the location of the center of gravity is elevated, which in turn decreases body stability. “This increases the strain on the back to maintain balance, causing an arch in the back and a thrust of the chest, pelvis and posterior. All of these, in the long run, can cause back pain,” said Dr. Kann.
He doesn’t agree with just going barefoot, either. “It’s one thing on a natural surface like soil or grass. But honestly, you run the risk of stepping on something, which is a whole other issue!”
It’s important to know that while there are many different styles and options of shoes available today, the brand doesn’t matter as much as the shape of the shoe and the reason for wearing it.
“It’s important that the type of shoe you buy accommodates what you are doing,” said Dr. Christopher Edwards, an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon at Tri Rivers Musculoskeletal Centers. “A good supportive arch and insole will alleviate pressure and the demands on the feet in general.
“A general rule of thumb when picking out shoes is that if you can bend the shoe in half, it’s not a good shoe,” he added. “You want a thicker sole to help lessen the pressure on arthritic points.”
Shoes should also be comfortable and fit. “You want to have good forefoot room,” Dr. Edwards said. “Besides being properly measured for size and width, you can also take a shoe and hold it upside down to the bottom of your foot. If your forefoot extends outside the shoe, it won’t be a comfortable fit.”
Also, a shoe that’s flat will help decrease the impact on the knee joints. “While wearing heels on occasion is not bad for your body, having excessive impact over time by constantly wearing them is not good,” Dr. Edwards added.
“To get a good shoe fit, you must first understand what kind of feet you have to better match them to the type/style of shoes,” said Dr. Christina Teimouri, director of Beaver Valley Foot Clinic. “A good trick for buying a properly fitting shoe is to shop late in the day when your feet are at their most swollen.
“The two main factors that affect a shoe fit are the foot’s length and its width,” she added. “And it’s preferable to find a lace-up, supportive shoe; if you feel pressure or tightness in the lacing area, then you have a high instep and high arch. That does not mean you need a larger size, because one size larger could result in the rest of the shoe being too big—it just means you need to find the style of shoes that suit your feet better.”
At the end of the day, fit is subjective. “Some like it more snug, some like it roomier. One man's good fit is another man's bad fit,” Dr. Teimouri summarized. “The best way to find out if a pair of shoes fits is to try them out yourself and walk around the store for a bit to feel if they are comfortable enough.”
Shoe fashions and styles come and go, but a lifetime of wearing comfortable shoes is one of the best preventive measures you can take to ensure your mobility and a healthy back and nerves.
“You keep your feet for a lifetime, so you need to treat them right,” said Dr. Kann. “If it doesn’t feel good–it’s not right for your foot. It’s as simple as that!”