It’s that time of year when we’re ready to pack up our winter boots and wool socks and start showing off our feet with sexy spring shoes, strappy sandals, flip-flops, or give up shoes altogether and enjoy running through the grass, or walking on the beach barefoot.
Have you checked out your Spring and Summer shoe collection?
Is what you’re planning to wear going to be helping or hurting your feet?
Here are some tips to help you pick shoes for healthy, pain-free feet. A client recently shared with me an article in Prevention Magazine by Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie called “Are Your Shoes Making You Fat?” This article explains some of the things I’ve been telling my clients for years, and demonstrates some very good reasons to make good shoe choices for a healthy body and pain-free feet!
Did you know?
and set you up for a lifetime of injuries.”
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association almost 80% of the American population has experienced foot pain! Our feet are NOT supposed to hurt! And for most people, male or female, the shoes you are wearing can be a major contributing factor to foot pain, and foot, ankle, knee, hip, and back problems.
Shoe Choices – What to Wear?
Do you like to wear flip-flops? Flip-flops and strapless shoes, whether it’s a heel or flat, clog, Birkenstock, or croc… If the shoe is not securely strapped onto your foot and ankle, your gait will be compromised.
Your stride will be short, muscles of the hip & Glutes not working to strengthen the legs and low back. In fact you’ll probably find yourself walking with your legs in front of the body. Start looking at people walking when you’re out and about. Notice if their legs swing more in front of the body, or evenly underneath to have one leg in front, and the other leg behind the body for every step. Then look at their feet and see what type of shoe they are wearing.
How many people do you know with lower back problems?
The leg swing on a normal, long stride gets behind the body and helps strengthen the lower back. If the leg never gets to the back you’re hip flexor muscles and Quadriceps along the front of the thighs can get really tight, the hip extensor muscles that move the leg to the back will get weaker, or stop firing altogether. This is a bad combination that can almost guarantee back problems!
Aside from the hip and back problems flip-flops and strapless shoes are creating, the muscles of the toes, arch, and ankle aren’t working right either!
The toes end up curling under with every step clutching to try and keep the shoe from falling off your foot. Ideally the toes work like a flipper, staying long as you roll through the ball of the foot to a high-heeled shoe position, then pushing off the ground like a flipper to propel you forward. This “flipper-action” of the toes is what strengthens the sole of the foot to keep the muscles of the arch strong and lifted.
If your spending time in flip-flops and strapless shoes, don’t expect the muscles of the toes, arches, and ankles to automatically switch gears and start working correctly when you put your Tennies on. Muscles have memory. They will continue to use the stride length and foot action that is the “norm” for you without conscious effort and action to move with better functional mechanics.
Ladies, how about high heels?
Personally, I’m a fan of heels vs. flats. The legs look prettier, and I like feeling taller. But I probably try on at least 10 pairs of heels for every 1 pair I purchase, to be sure it really fits my foot and supports my arch. And wearing heels for me isn’t a 9am-5pm daily occurrence, but an occasional event for a couple of hours max.
Walking around on your tippy-toes in high heels shortens the Achilles tendon, tightens the calf muscles to restrict foot & ankle flexibility, and increases stress and strain on the lower back.
Wearing heels all day, then putting your tennis shoes on for a run, Zumba class, or other moderate to high-impact jumping activity and you’re at an extremely high risk to pull a calf muscle or tear your Achilles tendons.
Not trying to scare you here, but a lot of people don’t realize the importance of their feet and how much shoe choices affect good health or risk of injury.
Do you want flat feet? Fallen arches? If your feet ache at the end of the day, it may be because you’ve had zero support for your feet and no are using no real muscle support to help maintain good posture thanks to your shoe choice for the day.
And How About the “Toning” Shoes?
Designed with a rocker bottom to improve the muscle work of the legs. Most have great marketing copy – “burn more calories,” “use more muscles,” “target those trouble areas to trim inches off your hips & thighs!”. While they are effective to help you feel the roll through the foot and free swing of the leg from the hip, it’s NOT the shoe that should be initiating a proper leg swing! Instead we should be focused on maintaining great core support and learning how to effectively activate our hip and leg muscles to freely swing the leg from the foot, and use the ankle, arch, and toe muscles to push off the ground and propel us forward. Learn good gait habits and your body can do the work, instead of the shoe!
So now we’re back to that critical question of what shoes to wear to show off our cute little toes and celebrate Spring & Summer?
- Find and buy shoes that really fit your feet and are comfortable to wear.
- Opt-Out of wearing flip-flops and backless, strapless sandals.
- Instead wear sandals and shoes that ALWAYS have a strap to help hold the shoe on your foot.
- Ladies find an appropriate heel height and be sure the shoe isn’t just “cute” but is comfortable.
- Use caution if transitioning from a shoe with a heel to running, jumping, or even Yoga class. (this applies to both men & women who are wearing dress shoes all day!)
- Feel more comfortable in flats? Double up on your Fantastic Feet exercises to help keep your foot fit, flexible, and pain-free.
- Like your rocker-bottom “toning” shoes? Wear your “rocker/toning“ shoes sometimes, but not all day, and not for every workout.
To help keep your feet and whole body healthy, good shoe choices can make a huge difference! Be wise and realize that good health starts from the ground up.
- Do exercises for targeted foot fitness training (ankle, arches, & toes)
- Incorporate activities in your workout program to stretch & strengthen your feet
- Make good shoe choices!
These are three easy things you can do to ensure you enjoy an active healthy lifestyle while lowering your risk of foot injury and avoiding the pitfalls of foot pain.
Is Shopping for New Shoes in Your Future?
Before you go on a shoe shopping spree…evaluate what’s currently sitting in your closet. Try everything on to see what fits and is safe to wear. Donate all the shoes you know you’d be better off not wearing to your favorite charity.
Then, keep in mind the tips you’ve learned here and make great new shoe choices to fill your closet with Spring and Summer shoes that will help keep your feet safe, healthy, happy, and pain-free.
Looking for some help finding great foot fitness exercises to add to your workout routine? Get a copy of the book Fantastic Feet! and a Foot Fitness Kit. Or check out all the great foot-care resources for healthy feet from Centerworks.