The importance of a proper fitting shoe
Brian Hutcheson, DC
Once upon a time shoes served a very elemental purpose: to protect the foot against temperature extremes.
Shoes have since been refined to serve three main functions: protect our feet, enable us to walk wherever we want and provide comfort when standing for long periods of time.
Now we have expensive designer shoes, discount shoes, pointy-toed shoes, rounded-toed shoes, heels, sandals, clogs, gym, tennis, basketball, dancing, hiking, rain boots, cowboy boots … the list goes on.
Going without footwear is not an option most of the time, however, and a proper fitting shoe is important for many reasons. The last time you bought new shoes, did you buy the size you always buy? Or were you fit for your size? If so, were you fit for your length and width?
A proper fitting shoe starts but does not end with length. A proper fitting shoe should also be the correct width, have a wide enough toe box for the natural shape of your foot and have the correct arch support. It should not require much “breaking in,” and it should feel right when you first put it on.
While there are definitely certain shoes that are better or worse, no shoe is perfect for everyone. Certain shoes will allow greater mobility, while others are more rigid. Overall, you want a shoe that allows the greatest mobility that your foot, ankle, leg and body can support.
The proper shoe can affect all weight-bearing bones, since the foot is the first place to absorb the force from most of our movements. When the foot strikes the ground as we walk, force is transferred from the foot to the knee, hip and spine.
Wearing the correct shoe:
- Provides support on many different surfaces.
- Protects feet from injury.
- Improves balance.
- Reduces stress on joints.
- Improves gait, making movements more functional and helping you feel at ease when moving.
- Encourages normal bone formation (bone completely reforms every several years, based on the forces put through the body).
- Reduces the risk of developing early osteoarthritis in the feet, legs, knees, hips and spine.
The basic anatomy of all shoes is similar regardless of the specific style. All shoes have soles, heels, tongues, laces, a toe box, etc. Each shoe customizes these for comfort, aesthetic, function, health and more. Correctly fitting footwear should have little to no negative impact on our health.
However, shoes with high heels, poor grip, or loose/insufficient lacing and or fastenings can cause impaired walking and balance and lead to falls. Shoes that are too tight can reduce blood flow, causing loss of sensation, discomfort, fatigue, pain, numbness or pins-and-needles sensations in the feet.
Over the years, many shoes have gotten tighter, firmer and more streamlined to improve performance and appearance, resulting in a more constricted space for the foot. This can decrease blood flow and circulation, cause blisters, increase the development of bunions, hammer toes, crossed toes, corns, in-grown toenails, etc.
Tight footwear can also cause microtrauma to nails that, overtime, can lift the nailbed and allow fungal infections to thrive under the nail. Conversely, if a shoe is too loose, friction can cause blisters and corns.
The verdict is in on what all experts agree is the absolute worst shoe of all: flip flops! Flip flops and similar heels without an ankle strap lack support and cushioning and are really bad for your foot if worn for prolonged periods. These shoes are perfect for walking from the car to the beach and for public showers but shouldn’t be used for daily wear.