Monday, November 06, 2006


Anyone who has ever stubbed his/her toe knows that our feet are vulnerable to injury. Therefore, since before recorded history, humans have worn shoes. What seems to be a modern medical novelty is the amount of foot damage caused by the very shoes we wear to protect our feet--and all because of a basic misunderstanding about our feet.

Shoes cause damage primarily by being too tight and too hard. If the toes are mushed together, the larger toenails will tend to grow into the surrounding skin, causing painful infections; the large toes will be pushed toward the outer (lateral) side of the foot, causing a permanent bony deviation known as a bunion; the outer foot will develop calluses; the middle toes will deviate up and down, causing more calluses, nail problems, and, ultimately, a foot so misshapened that it doesn't fit into any shoe.

To compensate for the pain and imbalance of a damaged foot, a person will twist the lower leg and apply more pressure to the other foot when standing or walking, thus putting more stress on knees, hips, and low back. Every part of the body will start to feel the strain of not standing properly on two feet. All from shoes that are too tight.


It really is as simple as that. It will prevent feet from being damaged, and even for already-damaged feet, alleviate some pain.

So why doesn't everybody do that? Why are chronic foot injuries from improper shoes so prevalent that corrective podiatric surgery to is on the rise every year? There are several reasons, facts that people never learned, forgot, or got wrong from the beginning:

1. Feet don't stay one size. Throughout one's life, even after attaining one's full adult height and weight, the feet tend to get bigger. Therefore, when buying shoes, one has to constantly remeasure the feet with the expectation that they may be longer and wider than expected.

2. Shoes are not precisely built to size. If a certain shoe says it is a size 10 but feels too tight to be a size 10, it's entirely possible that it isn't a size "10," so don't try to cram your foot into it!! Give it up, get a larger size--don't blame your foot or the socks or the "new leather" or whatever. Give your feet the benefit of the doubt and don't try to kill them just because you are convinced that they should fit a particular shoe. Whatever you do, don't accept a pair of tight shoes just because the salesperson says they're the right size for you; believe it or not, this may be a ploy to get a quick sale.

3. Shoes do not have to be tight to be useful. Extra space in a shoe can be filled with thicker socks, which are soft and pliable, allowing the toes to move (if your toes cannot spread apart within the shoe, the shoe is too small).

4. One pair of shoes cannot be used for all activities. Kids who go everywhere and do everything in one pair of sports shoes almost always end up with skin and nail problems in their feet, since the shoe they wear for walking and standing is not going to be big enough for running and jumping (which require more room in the heel and toe and usually more flexibility of the sole) and the interior of these shoes become very moist from sweat. Workers who have to wear steel-toed shoes cannot expect their feet to enjoy walking long distances in them. The inconvenience and cost of changing shoes for different occasions is always going to be outweighed by the benefit of keeping the feet comfortable.

4. Style must be secondary to comfort. It never pays to hurt your feet just to be able to show them in a particular pair of shoes. No human should ever walk about in high heels.

Again, don't be fooled by unscrupulous shoe salesmen: they will tell you anything in order to sell a pair of shoes quickly!

5. Any other padding you give your feet, such as thick socks, inserts and heel cushions, will probably help, and your shoes should be big enough to accomodate them. Don't hang on to a pair of shoes you can only wear with thin socks or nylons.

6. Whenever you can walk around comfortably without shoes, you should take off your shoes and give your feet a break. Bunions do not occur in people who walk barefoot.

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