A potentially daunting task for any individual is to go to the local shoe store and find a proper fitting shoe. We as consumers are often misled by marketing ploys that we “need” to buy this specific shoe in order to look and feel good. I can tell you from personal experience that everyone is different and there is not one shoe that will be perfect for everybody. I often tell my patients, who are above the age of 21, that “shoes are like wine, you wear what you like, and you drink what you like.” I usually get a few laughs but in all seriousness, when one is choosing a shoe to wear you have to pick the one that is comfortable the minute you put it on.
First step in choosing a shoe is determining what is going to be the primary activity that you will engage in while wearing them. For the sake of simplicity let us say you are looking for a walking shoe. We as human beings have a natural heel to toe type of gait and so the first requirement would be to make sure the heel and heel counter are of sufficient durability to handle your body weight. Each step we take exerts 3-5 times our body weight on impact of our heel to the ground, and the shoe needs to act as shock absorber in order to prolong the health of our feet. Heels with air or cushion allow for our peak pressures to be absorbed as well as aid in propelling our bodies forward through the gait cycle.
Next we have to look at the last of the shoe. There are basically three types of lasts; medial, straight, and lateral. Each, as seen in the diagram, are uniquely shaped but no one ever seems to know that these differences even exist. A straight last seems to be the most common according to my individual research. I acquired 30 of my wife’s favorite shoes and placed a straight edge on the bottom of the sole bisecting the heel of the shoe. What I was looking for was how much of the sole was on either side of the ruler thus determining what type was dominant. Another interesting part of my research was that the medial lasts were the most comfortable for my wife and this is probably because they accommodate for her bunion. So, this means that this second step in picking out a shoe is of great importance, especially if you do not have perfectly straight feet.
Thirdly we have to make sure there is proper arch support. Many of us are plagued with flat feet and this foot type can lead to a variety of foot problems for many individuals. A way to gauge a proper arch fit is to try on the shoes and observe how they make you stand. Do you feel like you are walking on the outside of your feet? Do you feel like you are placing more pressure on the inside of your feet? Or do your feet feel well balanced? Typically your feet will tell you within the first two minutes of trying on the shoes whether or not they are comfortable and so you should keep it simple and trust your feet.
On a side note, sometimes an individual has foot problems that cannot be remedied by the altering of their shoe gear and so a custom orthotic is what they need to use. Custom orthotics (custom shoe inserts) at Advanced Podiatry are perfectly molded to the bottom of one’s feet and provide control and stability to the natural structure and function of the foot. This kind of support is ideal and unfortunately the inserts that come pre-made in your shoes may not provide the support needed for your unique foot type.
Finally, I can go on about breathability of the materials, proper uppers, and vamp designs but let’s not get lost in the minutia. One must realize that the shoe you choose should be comfortable without any “break in” period and that you will always pay for quality. I am not saying the most expensive shoe is the best shoe, but typically the more expensive the shoe, the better the materials and design. New Balance, Nike, Red Wings, Danskos, Savitas, Ocean Pacific, Stacey Adams, Rockports, and Keds are all the brands of shoes that are currently by my front door and every one of them serve their purpose. Find the shoe you like, stick with them, and hopefully these few tips will get you there faster.
Dr. Jairo Cruz Jr
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