Source: Web exclusive, December 2009
We know you love your sexy stilettos. But research shows that wearing any kind of shoes (not just the sky-high variety) could be causing damage to our feet. A study from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and published in medical journal The Foot found that cultures that do not wear shoes, like the Zulu people of South Africa, have healthier feet than those that do. Here’s why your shoes may be hurting your feet.
1. They’re restrictive
‘I liken shoes to a straitjacket for the feet,’ says Rob Burke, a kinesiology researcher and footwear developer based in Aurora, Ont. ‘The foot is [made up of] bones, muscle and soft tissue which need to go through a full range of motion to develop their strength and flexibility properly.’ By wearing impractical shoes for fashion’s sake, we’re preventing our feet from moving freely while walking.
2. They’re too tight
Wearing too-small shoes or pulling your laces too tight can prevent your arch from moving freely. Burke, who conducted research to help develop a foot-strengthening insole called Barefoot Science, likens the foot arch to the leaf spring in a car when shoes are too tight’it’s as though you’re pushing that leaf spring down. ‘It’s like you’re driving your car with 100 extra people in the back seat and every time you hit a bump you’re bottoming out,’ he describes.
3. They’re too stiff
Leather shoes often have a layer of synthetic material to make them more durable, describes Burke. The problem with these treatments, he says, is that they make leather shoes much stiffer than is good for our feet.
4. Some shoes are too high
It should come as no surprise that the South African study found that European women had the unhealthiest feet of all the groups observed. Western women are drawn to unbearably painful shoes, after all. But the sexiness factor of killer heels comes at a price. ‘As we get higher in a shoe, we increase the torque on the joints,’ says Burke. ‘[It works] much like if you’re swinging a golf club’you get more torque if you’re using your driver than when you’re using your nine iron,’ he says. ‘A shoe that is flatter to the ground and has a minimal heel height would reduce [force] in the rear foot.’
5. On the other hand, some shoes are too flat
Those ballet flats may seem more comfortable than high heels, but the flimsier versions of these slip-ons don’t give your feet the protection they need. ‘Typically, we’re on sidewalks and concrete, and we haven’t really evolved to be [walking] on this hard, flat environment,’ says Burke. The flat shoe itself isn’t unhealthy for the foot, he adds, but many styles don’t provide enough cushioning for your weary soles.
6. Some shoes are too pointy
Pointy-toed boots might look sleek and sophisticated, but they aren’t doing your tootsies any favours. ‘Shoes have much pointier toes than our feet have, so [the shoes create] forces that push our big toes inward. That’s one of the leading causes of bunions,’ says Burke.
How to find healthier shoes
Some researchers say going barefoot is the ideal way to maintain healthy feet. However, since that’s not practical (or hygienic) for most people, shop around for shoes that will treat your feet right. Look for softer materials, flexibility and roominess when you’re in the market for a new pair of kicks. And keep your eye out for toe shapes that are rounder and wider than your normal pair of pumps. ‘If the shoe doesn’t represent the shape of your foot, it’s going to be harmful,’ Burke warns.
If this description (which, admittedly, evokes images of old-lady loafers) has you shaking in your Manolos, fear not: Burke acknowledges that people will inevitably choose fashion over function. If you’re going out for a night on the town or heading to an important work event where you need to look swank, go ahead and slip into your heels. ‘But for the other 80 percent of the time when no one’s looking at you, you should be in practical shoes,’ he advises.
Don’t miss out! Sign up for our free weekly newsletters and get nutritious recipes, healthy weight-loss tips, easy ways to stay in shape and all the health news you need, delivered straight to your inbox.