The Importance of Proper Footwear
By Carol Kutik
Walking continues to be one of the most popular activities for individuals of all ages, including older adults. Unfortunately, years of wear and tear, along with poor circulation, improperly trimmed toenails, and some chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and arthritis, can make walking less than enjoyable. Another major source of discomfort can be ill-fitting shoes. Shoes that are too big, too small, or constructed improperly for your unique feet can severely impact the proper biomechanics of your feet and cause pain, sores, and even increase your risk of falls.
Choosing athletic shoes can be confusing. There are running, walking, cross training, and even shoes with five toes, not to mention a variety of brand names and prices. Becoming knowledgeable about proper shoe fit can help choose the shoe that is right for you. A trained professional at a store that specializes in athletic footwear is your safest bet in finding the shoe that fits best.
For this article, I interviewed Andy Avedisian, owner of Fleet Feet in Birmingham, Alabama. He explains proper athletic shoe fitting process below.
“Many people wonder why we don't use a 'foot scanner' that you can step on to determine what shoe or insole is right for you. These computerized scanners, which are being installed in drug stores and superstores, show your foot's pressure points and arch type. It's a fancy way of doing the 'Wet Test' in which you wet your feet and stand on a surface, like a brown paper bag, that leaves a visible footprint. The wider the band that connects your heel and ball, the lower the arch you have.
Your arch type affects your biomechanics and is an important component of choosing the right shoe for your foot, but it is only part of the FIT story since at least 20 percent of peoples’ arches act differently than they should. Here at Fleet Feet Sports, our FIT Process has three main components that help us define your foot and make the best shoe recommendations for you: foot morphology, biomechanical assessment and 'other.'
Foot morphology is a fancy way of saying that we analyze your foot size, shape and arch type. This is done by visually looking at the foot statically and dynamically (important since you are in motion when you run) and taking multiple measurements with an old-fashioned Brannock device. This helps us to choose the right size shoe and shoe brand since each shoe company fits a certain shaped foot better. That is why your friend may swear by his Asics shoes, but they cause you pain.
Next, we examine your biomechanics by determining your arch flexibility and doing a gait analysis (either watching you walk barefoot or with our video gait analysis software). This tells us if you over-pronate, supinate or are naturally efficient, which in turn governs what type of shoe (neutral, stability or motion control) you need, as well as the curvature of your last shoes. Key here is arch flexibility, since a rigid arch needs extra cushioning to help diminish the shock produced when the foot hits the ground at forces of two to four times your body weight. Whereas a flexible arch disperses shock better, all that flexibility in the mid- and fore foot can cause over-pronation, which stresses and torques your feet, shins, knees, hips and back, causing its own host of problems.
Finally, we take other special considerations into account like your gender, weight, training surface, weekly mileage, injury status, orthotics and structural deviations in the foot like bunions and extra bones. We put all this data together and bring out two to three pairs of shoes that we think will fit you best. Don't be surprised if one of those first shoes feels amazing - it means that we did our job right.
When you think about it, the foot is a marvelous structure. It has 28 bones (including the sesmoids), 33 joints, 112 ligaments, plus tendons, nerves and blood vessels that work in unison to support, balance and propel your body. No two feet are exactly the same, nor do they always fit into a specific category. Don't cheat your feet and let a computer scan recommend an orthotic or running shoe for you. An injury is going to cost you a lot more, monetarily and mentally, than a good pair of shoes. Invest in your feet.”
Perhaps you struggle with knowing how often you should replace your athletic shoes to assure proper function and reduce chances of injury.
“Most athletic shoes breakdown and get weaker after 300 to 500 miles of wear. The foam cushion component of shoes is what gets weaker over time and doesn’t have the same shock absorption as the shoe is used over time. It’s estimated in the 300 to 500 mile range the foam becomes 'dead' or flat and no longer provides the protection and aid it once did.”
You may have noticed one of these specialty shops in your neighborhood and thought it was for runners and highly trained athletes. Not so! Fleet Feet operates over 90 store franchises throughout the United States, and Andy adds, “Fitting shoes is what we know and therefore have to offer the community. I believe we can help and serve many people and improve perhaps the quality of their lives just by having well-fitted shoes for whatever they do.”
There are other professional athletic shoe stores throughout the country that specialize in finding the right shoes for you. Armed with the important information in this article, you can determine whether the correct steps are being taken in the fitting process and if shoes you are choosing are right for you. Shoes should feel good from the first time you out them on. “Breaking them in” usually leads to shoes that spend most of their time in the closet.
While we’re talking feet, it’s a good time to think about good foot care, especially if you have diabetes or a circulatory disorder. Check your feet regularly or have a family member check them for you. Contact your doctor if you notice any areas of concern.