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Selecting the Shoe That's Right For You
Shoes should protect, but many can quickly destroy your feet. There are ways to avoid pain, discomfort and traumatic injury by choosing the right shoes. Don Greiert, a certified pedorthist (shoe fitter) with The Sports Medicine Clinic, works closely with podiatrists and patients to help match the best footwear to individuals and activities as an important part of recovering from or avoiding issues.
"A proper shoe fit is very important," he said. "Shoes should not make us worker harder. ‘Breaking in new shoes' is a myth. With a little thought and observation, you can make smarter footwear choices."
Greiert said it's important to review the crucial parts in shoe anatomy and how each applies to you:
Toe box (front of the shoe): Consider the depth and volume your foot needs — wide, medium or narrow? Market-driven designs — like pointed toes — sell well and look fantastic, but they're not functionally correct.
Vamp/Tongue: Depending on the style of vamp or tongue, pressure can squeeze down on the nerves at the top of the foot, causing pain. Many athletic footwear manufacturers use lacing systems to minimize slippage and maximize support and they market this as a novel selling point.
Heel counter: This insert strengthens the heel part of the shoe. It is extremely important because it's an anchor point for all foot activity and should be stable and supportive, like the foundation of a building. Avoid soft heel counters. Squeeze the back of the shoe toward the sole between your thumb and forefinger. If it compresses, it's not a stable shoe. If it's rigid, it's good.
Insole: This is the most technological part of the shoe that creates a layer between the sole and the wearer's foot. Manufacturers excel in this area with new innovations, especially in athletic shoes. They use air or gel inside and market this as a way to absorb and disperse shock or energy during athletic activity. The shoes should not make you wobbly.
Outsole: This is the exposed part of the sole that is in contact with the ground. The flex grooves in front of the outsole should match exactly with where the toes bend. If it doesn't match, it's like a speed bump every time you step.
Also consider how much or how little motion control do you need? The shoe industry uses these categories: barefoot technology, minimalist, neutral (soft cushioned shoes), support shoe (moderate), and control (maximum support).
Greiert recommends testing all shoes with these simple steps:
Torsional stability: Grab the front and rear of the shoe and wring it. If you can twist it too much, it's too soft. If you are flat footed, it will compound your problem.
"Lately, many shoe manufacturers are making shoes only when they receive an order," he said. "The shoes are literally curing in the shoe box instead of on the molds. Over the last six months I saw over 500 patients with shoes that were not properly cured and did not pass the level and centered test."
Forefoot flexion: Press the front of the shoe down on a counter and lift the back. The natural bend of your toes should match where the shoe bends. If it doesn't, the shoe's not for you.
Level and centered: Set the shoe on a counter and really look at it. Does it sit perpendicular on the counter? Does it look twisted? When you try to push it lightly, does it wobble?
Feet and shoes must have a good marriage.
"Most of the problems I see are directly related to inappropriate footwear," he said. "Match foot type with the best shoe for your activity."
Better shoe stores offer free foot screenings where they evaluate your shoe wear patterns and evaluate your foot needs.
Don Greiert has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from the University of Washington and a certificate in pedorthics from Ball State University, Muncie, Ind. For more information, visit thesportsmedicineclinic.com.