Choose summer shoes with structure, support
The shift from cold winter days to warm sunny weather is accompanied by a welcome change of footwear. Some people shed their heavy boots and head outside for more exercise. Others want to show off their pretty pedicures or fling off their flip flops and wiggle their toes in the sand.
Dr. Kristen Sandoe, a fellowship-trained foot and ankle surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care, has some advice for choosing shoes that will put (and keep) a spring in your step.
“Comfort and proper alignment of the feet affects all your joints, especially your knees, hips, and back,” Sandoe said. Poorly fitting shoes can lead to foot and toe issues that may not show up for years down the road. “Good shoe choices help avoid fatigue, pain, and deformities that could cause you to miss out on a lot of fun. I advise my patients to make smart shoe choices for comfort today and they’ll benefit in the years to come.”
First, look for shoes that are designed to:
1. Protect your feet: If you choose to wear sandals, consider a pair that keeps your toes under cover to protect them from injury. Wearing sandals that have straps is also a good idea so your toes don’t have to work as hard to keep the shoe in place. People with diabetes should avoid wearing flip-flops because simple foot cuts and scrapes can lead to serious complications like wounds and infections.
2. Correctly support the foot and ankle: Well-designed shoes will help support your feet. Proper arch support may decrease the likelihood of plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot. Walking barefoot, or in flimsy shoes without sufficient support, can overstretch, tear, or inflame this plantar fascia and cause intense heel pain.
3. Fit properly: Have your feet measured by a professional at the end of the day when your feet are naturally more swollen. Try on both shoes because your feet may be slightly different sizes, and allow for 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch of space between the end of your longest toe and the tip of your shoe when you are standing up. Calluses, blisters, bunions, and corns are all the result of improperly fitting shoes. Your shoe size and shape continues to change over your adult years. Statistics show 9 out of 10 women are wearing shoes that are too small.
4. Energize your exercise: Choose athletic shoes designed for your style of exercise. If you strive to complete your first 5K, buy your first pair of running shoes instead of using whatever pair you have in your closet. Make smart sock choices, too. The best running socks are ones that are made from synthetic materials such as polyester, acrylic, and other tech fabrics because they’ll wick away moisture. Stay away from 100 percent cotton socks because once cotton gets wet, it stays wet and can cause blisters.
5. Encourage proper body mechanics and bone health. If you really want to wear heels, chunky heels less than 2 inches high are your best bet. Ultra high heels (those over 2 inches) force feet into an unnatural position that puts stress on the ball of the foot. Wearing shoes that are too narrow can cause inflammation around the toe joints from overload, irritate nerves that surround them, and even cause toe deformities including bunions and hammertoes. Avoid spikey heels because their instability is an invitation for ankle sprains.
It’s best to avoid pointed-toe shoes altogether. If you must, find shoes that slope to a point beyond the end of your toes. Shoes with a wider toe box are best because pointed shoes can squeeze the entire front of your foot together leading to nerve pain, bunions, overlapping toes, and toenail bruises. Shoes should not pinch the sides or tops of your toes.
Fashion trends in footwear have a big impact on our shoe choices. Sandoe thinks some summer shoe styles are better than others.
Flip flops should be worn sparingly. People who wear them to protect their feet on the beach or in the shower room are better off than going barefoot. When worn for an entire day’s activities, flip flops provide very little protection or arch support and can aggravate plantar fasciitis and cause arch pain.
“Wear flip flops for a specific purpose, then switch to better-structured sandals,” Sandoe said. “Higher quality slip-on sandals that resemble flip flops are a good alternative.” The thick sole raises the foot above debris on the ground, provides some shock absorption, and is often designed with good arch support. “There are even some brands of sandals that have room for a custom orthotic,” a shoe insert that supports, cushions and/or corrects abnormal motion of the foot, she said.
Barefoot shoes that resemble a “glove” for your feet have been promoted in the media as a return to nature over today’s high tech running and walking shoes. Sandoe said these shoes offer very little support for your heel or arch and no shock absorption. “The ‘fingers’ also separate the toes and this interferes with a person’s natural walking movement,” she said.
Ballet flats with little support also have a limited role. Many of the cute, inexpensive brands provide little to no shock absorption or arch support. Sandoe recommends looking for well- designed flats structured with arch support and cushion.
“Wear new shoes around the house and break them in instead of wearing them all day right away,” she said.
“My advice is to get out there and exercise and look your best, but if you put on shoes that are not comfortable for a full day, wear them for a couple of hours and then switch to well-structured and supportive shoes,” Sandoe said. “All good things in moderation.”