They’re a fashion statement, a way to spoil yourself and they can make you feel like a million bucks. But the most important thing about shoes is how they make your feet feel.
The key to healthier, happier feet is shoes that fit correctly – and yes, you’ve guessed it, that pair of killer heels isn’t doing your feet any favours.
“Our feet are among the most important parts of our bodies, and generally the ones we care least about,” says podiatrist Calvin Sinnett, who’s also Chairman of the Podiatry Association of South Africa’s northern branch.
“Our feet are also situated furthest from our heart and brain, so the nerve and blood supply to the feet is the smallest, making them susceptible to permanent damage,” he adds. “If you don’t look after your feet and wear whatever shoes you like, you’re more likely to have problems in the long run.”
What’s comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for another, so there’s no one perfect shoe for everyone. Also, our feet change as we age.
“The fatty pads move and become thinner,” says Victor Blunden, podiatrist at Shared Care Medi Centre in Joburg. “And your foot structure can change depending on hereditary conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic conditions such as diabetes.”
When it comes to choosing shoes, style and even comfort shouldn’t be your only considerations. Here’s a guide to the pros and cons of different types of shoes.
These might feel comfortable, but they provide no support or grip/hold on the foot, Victor says.
Flipflops are too flat (no arch support), too thin (no cushioning) and too open (risking external injuries from bumping into or stepping on sharp objects).
They do protect your feet in gyms and other such public or communal places, he adds. S Continual wear can lead to tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons in the foot, especially those in the arch), heel pain and strains.
Flat slip-on sandals have pretty much the same effect on the foot as flipflops, Victor says.
Sandals with a back-strap give the foot some support.
“Some sandals have good cushioning and support, and others even have builtin arch support,” he notes.
Heels that are too high shift your weight onto the ball of your foot. “You may look fabulous, but stilettos cause immense pressure on the front part of the foot,” Victor explains. “I’d advise wearing stilettos only on special occasions.”
They force your hips and knees forwards, which affects balance and can cause leg and back pain.
Pointy shoes squeeze toes together.
- Continual wear can lead to pinched nerves, bunions (a painful lump at the base of the big toe) and hammertoes (abnormal bends in the toe joints that can become rigid). It can also cause neuromas, which are benign but painful nerve tumours from the growth of nerve tissue. These often occur between the third and fourth toes. It can cause a burning sensation, tingling or numbness between the toes and in the ball of the foot.
Boots that have stiletto heels and pointy toes cause the same problems as slip-on stilettos. If you want height, opt for heels that are no higher than 4 cm, and make sure they’re chunky. Consider wearing a more flexible leather boot that allows the ankle to move.
These shoes tend to be made of rigid material which presses against the back of the heel.
- Continual wear can lead to a painful spot at the back of the heel, which can develop into a bone deformity referred to as “pump bump”. The pressure can lead to blisters, swelling and pain in the Achilles tendon.
These shoes don’t provide any support, and the material used forces the foot into a convex position, Victor says. “These shoes are my pet hate,” he adds. “They have no purpose except coverage.” As with flipflops, there’s a risk of the sole being pierced by a foreign object because they’re so thin.
- Continual wear can lead to tendonitis, and heel, knee, hip and back pain. The lack of arch support can lead to a painful condition called plantar fasciitis – the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot becomes overstretched, torn or inflamed.
Wedges and platform shoes
As with other high heels, wedge heels put pressure on the front of your foot and make your body jut forwards. They’re generally better than stilettos because the chunkier heel distributes your weight more evenly, but the height of the heel determines the angle of the foot and consequently how much pressure there is on the forefoot.
These shoes don’t allow for proper foot function because the base is so rigid, he says. Proper foot function means there’s complete movement from when your heel strikes the ground, through the bending of the foot to the toes leaving the ground.
Flatter platform wedges are slightly better only because they reduce the incline, protecting the ball of the foot a bit more and helping with balance. But the rigid sole still prevents the natural movement of your foot while walking.
- Continual wear can lead to pinched nerves, bunions, hammertoes and neuromas.
Good ground grip
Generally broader in the toe and wider than most shoes on the market Sneakers are probably the most beneficial shoes for one’s feet, according to Victor.
His advice to women who love high heels is to wear sneakers to and from work, as well as for driving, and wear their heels only at work. “You can even keep them under your desk,” he says.
Excellent support Running shoes are fantastic for what they’re designed for – the forward motion of walking, jogging and running.
Reputable shoe stores can also recommend running shoes with an internal structure suited to your feet, taking into consideration whether you tend to walk on the inside or outside of your soles.
But too much cushioning is also not a good idea because you’re not getting the foot-brain feedback that allows you to sense the ground.