Comfortable shoes?

A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook profile today and it's the perfect inspiration for today's blog post: "Anyone have a recommendation for a comfortable pair of shoes (flats or sandals)? I need something really really comfy for lots and lots of standing and walking. Thanks!"

People are passionate about their shoes. They love comfortable shoes, they love stylish shoes and they love shoes that make them feel sexy.

For a lot of people, stylish and sexy trump comfort. Even even when it comes to comfort, one person's foot comfort is another person's foot misery.

I probably should disclose up front that I've never been a shoe fashionista. Or any kind of fashionista. On a good day I'm wearing mascara and earrings, so changing my footwear a couple years ago to shoes that support my long-term foot health wasn't a huge sacrifice by any means. However, in spite of my lack of shoe style, people ask me about shoes quite a bit.

"Are Danskos good shoes?"

"What about __________?" Fill in the blank with your shoe in question - Crocs, Birkenstocks, Vibrams, Merrells,  etc.

I wish there were a straightforward answer to this question, but, it depends...... mostly on the current condition of your feet.

Things you need to consider about your feet when choosing shoes:

  • Do you currently where any type of positive heel? (a positive heel being defined as a rise under your heel that lifts it higher than the ball of your foot)
  • What type of shoe do you usually wear? thick stiff soled ones, positive heels, tennis shoes, steel toed boots, flip flops, etc.
  • Are you comfortable going barefoot around your house or does it cause you discomfort or pain?
  • Do you have any foot pain/discomfort? If so, what kind?
  • Do you wear orthotics?
  • Are you interested in investing time and energy into your foot health?

Let's assume your answer to the last question is an enthusiastic, resounding "Yes!!" and that you're interested in shoes that support your long term foot health (hint - foot health equals knee health, equals hip health, equals pelvic floor health, etc., etc.).

What should you look for in a shoe?

  • a nice, wide toebox that matches the shape of your foot (and no, last time I checked, your toes don't end in a point) - this means your toes don't have to deform to the shape of the shoe, which can, over time, lead to all sorts of problems like bunions and overlapping toes
  • a flat sole - this means the heel and the ball of the foot are on the same horizontal plane, you might be surprised to learn that the majority of foot wear has a positive heel - sneakers, sandals, men's dress shoes, men's boots, etc. - not just the ankle breaker stilettos we commonly think of as high heels
  • a thin flexible sole - ideally your feet should be in shoes that allow them to deform to the surface underneath them, this helps keep your foot joints mobile and all those fabulous muscles in your feet conditioned and in shape - essential for long term foot health
  • a shoe that attaches around your heel or ankle - this means no slip ons (flip flops, mules, clogs, etc.), when you wear shoes that don't attach to your heel or ankle, you're asking your toes to do extra work and grip to help keep your shoe on your foot, over time the toe muscles get tight and shorten and can lead to not so fun things like hammertoes

What about arch support?

You might be surprised to learn that arch support isn't necessary. Arch support becomes a necessity when the intrinsic foot muscles (muscles that have both attachments on your foot) weaken and when the foot becomes stiff and unyielding (a downside of wearing stiff and unyielding shoes).

When I was a kid, my brother and I would get shoes at a shoe store that took your foot print. I remember standing on the ink pad in my bare feet, stepping onto a clean piece of white paper and stepping off to reveal my full, indigo ink, foot print in all its glory.

My younger brother's footprint was incomplete compared to mine. Being the know-it-all big sister, I felt sorry for him and his inferior feet. And then I realized that really it was my feet that needed some help.

I'm pleased to report that today, I have a nice, healthy arch - no arch support required.

Does this mean you should trade in your positive heeled, stiff-soled, Danskos for Vibram FiveFingers?

Probably not.

Going from a more supportive shoe to a more minimal shoe without conditioning your feet could easily lead to more foot problems. If you've been wearing Danskos or sneakers or any other stiff-soled, positive heeled shoe, your feet are deconditioned. It's a bit like having your arm in a cast and then jumping right into chin ups after your cast comes off - not a good idea.

If you've worn positive heels for years and can't go barefoot around your house without discomfort, you'll need to transition more gradually to a flat soled shoe and take time to restore length to your calf muscles.

Keep in mind, not being able to be barefoot without discomfort isn't a sign that you shouldn't go barefoot, it's a sign that your feet are out of shape. The long-term solution isn't a more supportive pair of shoes, it's to spend time exercising and strengthening your feet.

How do you do that?

Try these 3 tips and start conditioning your feet for long-term health

  1. massage your feet - this doesn't have to be anything fancy, but spend some time reawakening the muscles in your feet with some massage
  2. stretch the top of your feet - (photo on left) start seated and work your way up to standing, it's not uncommon to have your feet cramp during this exercise, if that happens, take a break to relieve the cramp and return to the stretch as you are able, work up to 60 seconds over time
  3. spread your toes - (photo on right) lace your fingers in between your toes and gently create more space between your toes as you stretch the abductor muscles
TOF seated sm
toe stretch

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