With summer underway, street fairs and walks by Lake Michigan await you. Before you reach for your favorite ballet flats or sandals, find out what summer shoes are best for your feet.
Foot pain is nothing new for women. In fact, slightly more women than men have foot problems, said Dr. Megan Leahy, a podiatrist at Swedish Covenant Hospital. Women have looser ligaments than men, so their joints may move more than they should, which leads to foot wear and tear.
Women’s feet are structurally different from men’s, too. Compared to men, women have narrower heels, wider forefeet and longer toes, all relative to their foot size. Shoe manufacturers don’t consider these structural differences when making shoes.
“Not only are we trying to deal with different fashions, but we’re trying to put our feet into shoes that were not built for women,” said Leahy.
Become shoe savvy
Here’s a guide to staying comfortable while keeping your feet healthy this summer.
Flip-flops: Flip-flops are a daily no-no, unless you’re at the beach. “Any shoe that doesn’t grip the heel causes the toe to curl in order to keep the shoe on,” said Leahy. “You don’t even realize you’re doing it.” This can lead to strain, inflammation, heel pain, tendonitis and stress fractures. You’re also more likely to twist your ankle. Flip-flops are meant to protect the feet from the hot sand at the beach or to be worn at the pool or public shower.
Ballet flats: Women love to wear them at home and at the office. “But ballet flats are so flexible they offer no support,” said Leahy. “Believe it or not, a slight heel is good.” She recommends half an inch to an inch. A slight heel puts less strain on the bottom of the foot’s ligaments. If you have foot pain or foot problems, avoid wearing ballet flats.
Sandals: When choosing sandals, make sure the sandal holds the heel well in the shoe. The sandal should also have a slight, half-inch to one-inch heel. There shouldn’t be any seams or irritating straps that can add to foot discomfort. Although the classic style of Birkenstock — those with two straps over the inset — don’t anchor the heel, they are more stable than other backless shoes, and wearers are less likely to curl their toes. Even better is the Birkenstock style with a low heel and ankle strap.
High heels: Women who wear high heels often can develop pain in the ball of the foot. Wearing high heels can cause stress fracture of the metatarsals (bones behind the toes), inflammation of the joint capsule and swelling of a nerve. Gel inserts available at your local drugstore provide extra shock absorbency. Contrary to popular opinion, high heels don’t cause bunions or hammertoes. These common foot conditions are usually hereditary.
If you’re going to wear high heels every day, choose heels 1.5 inches or lower. Wearing extremely high heels every day can contribute to a shortened Achilles tendon and pain and problems in the ball of the foot. Wider heels and wedged heels are more stable than high heels and decrease your chance of spraining an ankle or falling. Platform heels can give the appearance of a high-heeled shoe, but may be more comfortable and cause fewer foot and ankle problems.
Clogs. These shoes provide good arch support but because there’s no heel, you’ll still subconsciously curl the toes to keep it on the foot. This can lead to tendonitis or hammertoe. Dansko brand clogs, however, stay in place well because they anchor the heel, Leahy said.
Crocs. These popular shoes don’t anchor the heel in a stable fashion, even if they have a strap. This makes people more prone to tripping and falling. Croc wearers also have a tendency to curl the toes to keep the shoes on. This can strain the soft tissues and make hammertoes worse. Crocs protect feet at the beach and pool and in public showers, but they’re not recommended for lots of walking.
What to wear?
The most stable shoe is one that laces up or has Velcro, with good arch support and not too much flexibility, said Leahy. She recommends athletic or running shoes, and if dress code doesn’t allow that, then try Munro, Born, ECCO or Clarks, among others, because these brands make dressy shoes that are comfortable.
“Brand isn’t the most important thing,” cautioned Leahy. An appropriate shoe should only bend at the ball of the foot when stressed. Generally speaking, high-arched feet require more cushioning and low-arched feet require more stability in shoes. The widest portion of the foot should match the widest portion of the shoe. The shoe should be comfortable as soon as you try it on at the store; “breaking them in” won’t help.
Many people think foot pain is normal. “Foot pain is never normal,” said Leahy. If pain persists for more than a few weeks, see a podiatric doctor.