Save your sole

By Michelle Coursey

Naomi Campbell's infamous catwalk tumble would have come as no surprise to foot experts. Photo / Neville Marriner
Naomi Campbell's infamous catwalk tumble would have come as no surprise to foot experts. Photo / Neville Marriner

In the search for the perfect shoe, we take many things into account: the colour, the pointedness of the toe, how long they make our legs look, whether they look like the ones we saw Jessica Alba wearing.

All these things matter, of course, but some shoes can cause serious problems. Some studies estimate up to 80 per cent of foot damage occurs because of footwear issues - blisters, corns, and ingrown nails are just some of the unsavoury side effects of shoe-wearing.

And it seems no footwear is safe - stilettos are bad, ballet flats give no support and a recent study from Harvard researchers found even running shoes may be harmful. Looking after the sole is harder than you'd think.

Podiatrist John Miller, the founder of Foot Mechanics podiatry clinics, says there is one thing that matters more than any other: the fit.

"Regardless of the type of shoe, around 85 per cent of the female population wears ill-fitting shoes," Miller says. Women often buy shoes that are not right for them to get a bargain, on an impulse buy, or because they want their feet to look smaller.

To get it right, Miller suggests scheduling your shopping in the afternoon.

"Your foot size can change five to eight per cent during the day as your feet swell, so try on shoes later in the day."

It's also important to use the "rule of thumb" so they aren't too tight: check there is a thumb's width of room from the end of your longest toe to the front of the shoe. Be aware your longest toe may be your second toe, not your big toe.

"And make sure you use your own thumb, not the store person's," cautions Miller.

When it comes to those must-have winter boots, it's important to choose a pair with a fastening system. Look for zips, buckles or lycra inserts that will allow for the slightly different size of each of your feet as well as offering more support and reducing the pressure on your calves.
As for the style, there is some hope for fans of Carrie Bradshaw-esque heels.

"A small heel has been proven to actually help feet function, and be more comfortable," says Miller.

The perfect height? A modest 3cm, but Miller adds that for daily wear, a heel that is about 4cm or less is ideal. Another ray of light: if you want podiatrist-approved shoes with a heel, Kumfs have taken a leap from their previous "sensible shoe" look and are bringing in stylish stilettos with well-placed support.

If that's just not enough, limit the time you spend wearing higher styles of shoe.

"Higher heels look great, but just be aware that the longer you wear them, the more fatigue you get in your muscles," says Miller. He recommends a limit of three hours.

It's also important to work out your feet as well as the rest of your body. Personal trainer Rebecca Underdown from Energy Lab says there are some simple exercises to do at home that "will not only shape your ankle and lower leg, but also improve your stability and reduce your chance of injury".

"Calf raises are a brilliant exercise for feet, ankles and calves. Stand on the edge of a step on the balls of feet. Slowly drop heels down slightly below the edge of the step, then lift heels back up again until you reach the furthest you can go, and hold at the top for a second or two. Repeat 15 times, two to three times a day."

"Stand on one leg two or three times a day - try doing it while you brush your teeth, and to make it harder, close your eyes. The point is to stay upright and balanced on that one foot - you will feel your ankles and arches doing lots of work."

"Hopping: do 10 hops on each leg - aim to go as high as possible and make them sharp. Hit the ground and go fast up again. Keep in mind that you're not letting your hip collapse as you hit the ground, and keeping your abs tight as you hop will help your stability. Repeat two or three times a day."

ACHY, BREAKY FEET

Some of the most common footwear styles can hurt so here's what to watch out for.

Ballet flats: These offer very little support to the arch of the foot, and are often designed as a smaller fit in order to make them stay on. This can cause the toes to be pushed together, blisters on the back of the heel, and corns (a hardened patch of skin) on the toes.

Heels: Stiletto heels can reduce the workload of calf muscles and ankles, making women more prone to ankle sprains. In the long term, posture can be permanently altered, and osteoarthritis of the knee and chronic back pain can be symptoms of habitual heel-wearers.

Boots: Heeled boots without flexible soles can put a large amount of strain on the Achilles area (above the ankle at the back of the leg), particularly if they are an incorrect size. Boots that are too small can also place pressure on toes, resulting in ingrown toenails and corns.

- Herald on Sunday

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