Put Some Spring into Your Step: The Importance of Good Footwear - Breakaway Physical Therapy
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Put Some Spring into Your Step: The Importance of Good Footwear

Running Shoes

Spring is upon us! And what a good feeling that is. More sunshine, theoretically warmer weather (although it always seems to take longer than we think!) and more outdoor activities!

What isn’t a good feeling…are your feet hurting because you picked the wrong shoes for your feet?!  
 
I know when the weather warms up, we (me too!) start to immediately think about freeing those feet and wearing sandals. However, not all shoes, and sandals are created equal. There is a reason your physical therapist tells you to wear good shoes.

Our feet are the first contact with the ground and that affects everything in our body (our legs, trunk, arms and neck!). Wearing proper shoes that support the feet can and do affect the knee or low back pain you might be having. In the same line of thinking, bad shoes can have a big negative impact on the body part you have been working so hard to heal.  

So Where to Start in Picking Out Shoes?  

1

Think about the activity. You should absolutely have different shoes for different activities. Even if it is the same shoe and model, it will help evenly distribute the wear (we will talk about what to look for later) and tear on the shoes, keeping them in peak condition for longer.

While it seems redundant to have two pairs of running shoes, having one for trail running and one for road running not only allows you to tweak it to meet the need of the activity, but it also allows:

  • More tread and traction for trail running - extending the life of the shoes
  • I personally have a pair of shoes I only use for walking in my neighborhood, and a separate pair for walking around Breakaway

2

Second, where to purchase them? In these days of ordering off the internet, you may think buying shoes is as easy as clicking “add to cart”. This is a terrible idea. Why?

You aren’t just picking out a shoe based on color and size. When you go to a running store, they assess you barefoot, in your current shoes AND in the shoe options you are considering.

The number one thing to do is go to a store that will analyze your walking and running

  • Treadmill running with a video that has the option to slow down so you can look at the  support through the phases of running in the different shoe options
  • You will be able to see how your feet hit the ground or treadmill in slow motion to be able to figure out what shoes will support your feet the best

Things to consider:

  • Do you have pronated feet or flat feet?  You may need more support on the inside of your foot in the shoe (your shoe store will understand what shoes to put you in)
  • If you pronate, and your foot isn’t supported, you can put a lot of extra stress on the inside aspect of your knee AND then further issues up your entire body
  • A more flexible shoe with a wide toe box is a great option
  • Check out Altra shoes
  • Do you have a really hypermobile (loose) feet and ankles? You might not want a minimalist shoe, instead something more rigid.
  • We want to optimize the positioning of your foot as it hits the ground and moves through weight acceptance and then push off
  • Do you have super high arches and wear on the outside of your feet (supinated)?
  • You may want a cushioned shoe
  • Check out Hoakas

Most shoe brands have a low stability, middle stability and high stability model that helps to address the different needs of a foot

The most important thing is getting the right shoe for your foot that is as flexible as possible (that your foot can work with)!


What We Haven’t Talked About Yet is Orthotics!

Orthotics are inserts ranging in length (just under the heel as a heel lift, to the middle of your foot, and all the way to the toes), rigidity and customization.

  • There are inserts you buy at CVS that are not customizable at all
  • Some orthotics are semi-moldable with heat (and even that varies widely)
  • Some are a slipper cast where a physical therapist or podiatrist takes a mold of your foot
  • Orthotics add in support where shoes can not
  • They offer tweaking and should work together with your shoe for that ideal positioning of your foot and ankle

If your shoes are old, start first with replacing them, and then adding in new orthotics. Depending on the style, these could end up being replaced around the same time as your shoes.

The exception to this are the slipper cast which are typically a very rigid orthotic and designed to last a few years (and shoes absolutely are not meant to work that long!).


We have mentioned about the need to change your shoes and to look for wear and tear. But what does that exactly mean?

  • Start with the top of the shoe. Can you see your toes poking out of any holes?
  • That sounds silly but if you see any holes its WAY past time to retire them!
  • Next look at the heel cup, have you worn out the padding there?
  • That’s a sneaky way to irritate you Achilles tendon (the tendon in the back of your ankle)
  • The big thing to check is the bottom of the shoe! Flip it over.
  • Is the tread worn away and you are down to foam?
  • Can you see a slant to the shoes and an uneven surface?
  • Pro Tip: when you do get new shoes, take a photo of the bottom so you have something to compare to next time!

When you do get new shoes, the best thing to do is to systematically retire shoes before they get to a super worn-down state. This is typically between 300-500 miles. That sounds like a lot right?

But if you go for a 2 mile walk every day, that is about 14 miles per week, which is 56 miles per month, meaning every 6-9 months you should be retiring shoes. Mark it on the calendar!

Or check your milage log on your GPS app for a more accurate idea of the miles you put on your shoes. Once you have a shoe that works well for you, this is a situation where you could order the same shoe model and size offline (or even 2 pairs when a sale is going on!).  

We have talked a lot about athletic shoes but not as much about other shoe options, which absolutely deserve some attention. The most problematic shoes we see at Breakaway are worn out athletic shoes (which we already covered), flip flops (well sandals in general) and heels.  

Sandals:

Sandals have so many subsets of styles these days, but most don’t provide enough support. Is there a place for a more fashionable sandal…when you aren’t doing a lot of walking or standing, or a super special event?!

In the spring and summer when you want to wear a cooler shoe consider Birkenstocks or a similar equivalent. They are no longer just for hippies! But for stylish individuals who want to take care of their body. I have a pair that I got from Target last year that held up very well (I got two pairs), for about $25.

Support and style do not always have to be expensive. Part of the reason flip flops are such a bad shoe (if you can even call them that, maybe foot accessory is a better term!) is they typically have no arch support, and very little strapping to keep them on your foot.

This often results in unique compensations to help “grip” and keep them attached to you and not in the middle of the street as you run into the store (is that just me that has happened to?!)

Heels:

  • Why are they so cute but so painful and so bad for us?!
  • They have a narrow toe cup which means they crowd the toes together, which especially affects your big toe during the walking phase when you push your foot off the ground
  • Over time, consistently wearing this shoe can cause some long-term changes in the feet
  • They also have no arch support and they can shorten the Achilles tendon (the tendon in the back of your foot)

As we talked about earlier, these kinds of changes have carry-over to other areas of the body, up the entire spine. Heels, like sandals have a place in different circumstances.

Minimal standing and walking, a special event, overall, very limited use. Also, be mindful of the heel height. A shoe with a 1-inch heel and open toes is very different from 3-inch heels that have a closed, pointy toe.  

How about those cute, fashionable boots?

These, as do all shoes, vary widely. Some have heels, some are flatter, some go high over the ankle and others just barely cover the ankle. One of the reasons I bring this shoe up (while not typically a spring shoe) is that it has the option to provide some extra support and compression to an injured ankle (think a hiking boot).

But the trade for a lot of boots is the weight of them. They tend to be heavy! Which also affects how we move and place our foot, and say it with me, affects the rest of the body up the entire spine.  

  • Pick shoes specific to the activity you are going to participate in
  • Make sure your main exercise and heavy activity shoes are fit with a professional (And be sure to rotate them)
  • Our shoes are not just a style or accessory piece but rather a tool in supporting our whole body

Do You Have Questions About Your Shoes?

Are you trying to figure out if the sneakers your best friend swears by are actually good for you?

Ask your physical therapist at your next appointment! 

Better yet, if you feel limited by your body (and possibly your shoes) in anyway, reach out to Breakaway Physical Therapy, to see what we can do to get you back on the right foot! (or the left one!).

Call us at 410-721-6333 to enjoy walking, running and being active again!  


Emily Selby

Emily Selby

Emily has exercise ADHD and changes her movement interest frequently. She enjoys yoga, hiking, cycling and rock climbing. Emily has a two-year-old son who frequently makes her laugh and challenges her at the same time. Emily went to Towson University for her undergraduate degree and then went on to get her DPT from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She spent some time shadowing a clinic where she was introduced to pelvic floor PT and knew that she needed to learn more about this specialty. She and Caroline are in competition for the most books read for the year. She never knows what to make for dinner...so what are you having tonight?
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