Shopping For Shoes

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Ellie Petkova is a movement specialist and fitness expert and in the first of a series of articles delving into the health of our feet, she takes a look at shoes and how we should be choosing the right shoes for spending hours on our feet.

Today, there is a lot of talk about sitting as the new smoking, about putting up a dynamic workspace. For many of you, I know too much sitting is not an issue. On the contrary, you probably spend the majority of your working time on your feet – standing or moving around.

If that is the case, you should make sure you take care of your base – it’s all about that base, you know! Think of your feet as the foundation of the house, which is your body. So, healthy feet = solid house. Or put the other way around, if you have feet issues, those might also affect the structures above – ankles, knees, hips, lower spine!

The single most important thing, especially for people who stand and move a lot, is footwear. Now, this article will be a bit more relevant for the ladies because women’s shoes tend to have more damaging features, but you guys will probably also want to know how to choose shoes wisely.

What are the features of a shoe, which is good for your feet?

  • A WIDE TOE BOX. It must allow the whole foot to step comfortably, without changing its geometry.

Most shoe models will squeeze the forefoot and make it step in a deformed position, the toes pressed from both sides. You can easily check if that is the case with your own shoes: compare the width of your shoe sole with the width of your foot (see the pictures below). If the toes are constantly pressured to point to a certain unnatural direction, that is a signal for the body to adapt. Familiar with bunions, ladies?

  • A FLAT SOLE: your heel should not be positioned higher than the front of the foot.

Perpetual use of shoes with an elevated heel could be damaging to the foot and to the whole body by bringing it out of alignment.

I rarely wear high heels anymore. So, I rummaged my closet for a pair of shoes for this little test. Below is a photo of a shoe I used to wear daily to work and considered a “normal” height. It turns out there is a 40⁰ angle between the elevated heel and the floor! Since the body has a duty to keep me from toppling forward, it compensates this angle by changing the angles of other joints above and bringing the body out of alignment – slightly bending the knees, tilting the hips, flexing the lower vertebrae.

Constant wearing of heeled shoes is also a signal which will eventually lead to calf muscles shortening, and that could interfere with your natural gait.

Guys, don’t be complacent now, because men’s shoes usually have got a heel too, though smaller.

  • A FLEXIBLE SOLE, which will allow for movement of the structures within the foot itself.

Do you know that there are 33 joints, 26 bones and tens of muscles and tendons below the ankle? A rigid shoe will prevent the motion in all these structures, forcing the ankle to take over motions inherent to the foot. So, a flexible sole and walking on natural terrain as often as possible will allow the foot to start doing its job.

Change can and should happen gradually, through a transition. If you go from heavy boots or high heels straight to minimalist shoes, you might hurt yourself because the body is not prepared. Start wearing the military boots less and less. Whenever your next shopping tour comes up, look for better-suited shoes. Even if your high heels feel comfy, don’t be misled; try to choose shoes with wider toe boxes, flat and flexible soles.

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