Sole searching

Tue, May 11, 2010, 01:00

Which shoes available to buy on the high street have a fashion sensibility and tick the podiatrist’s boxes? ALANNA GALLAGHERtakes a podiatrist shopping to find out

THE AVERAGE person walks 8,000-10,000 steps a day, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. A shoe should act as a shock absorber for the feet, explains Stephanie Haughey, lecturer in podiatry at NUI Galway, adding: “It doesn’t matter the price you pay or the brand you buy, it is the combined components of the shoe and its design that determine whether it’s good to wear or not.”

So, what to look for when seeking footwear perfection? Start by sole searching, says Haughey. “The sole should be similar in shape to your natural foot.”

Then knock on the sole, she says, adding. “If it sounds like someone knocking on your front door, it means the sole is too hard.” Then submit the sole to the “bend test”. If it bends like a banana, don’t buy it, she continues. “The sole should be flexible at the big toe joint, but not throughout the sole.”

Check for raised stitching that might irritate the skin and ensure that the back of the heel, known as the heel counter, doesn’t fold down.

The way the shoe fastens is also important, she says. A lace-up shoe is the best style to buy, but the throat of the shoe needs to open up sufficiently to accommodate the arch of the foot. The best kind of lace-up has four or five holes on either side.

This facilitates adjustments to the laces to accommodate any slight swelling within the foot tissues.

The perfect shoe should give stability and allow the foot to move naturally inside, she explains. “Make sure you can wriggle your toes freely without touching the sides. Ensure there is a thumb width gap between the tip of your longest toe and the tip of the shoe.”

Runners are a lace-up style favoured by podiatric surgeon Paul Gabriel Scullion. While still considered a young person’s shoe, he tries to get all his elderly patients to embrace the idea of wearing them, citing an elderly lady who was in crutches and using a walking stick and is now “walking freely thanks to changing her footwear to runners”.

Scullion is sceptical of the brands advocating themselves as health shoes. The British Chiropody Podiatry Association doesn’t endorse any footwear brands.

In contrast, the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) lists a vast range of brands endorsed by its “Seal of Approval”. One such recent addition is Fitflop, which has just introduced its first sandal to its footwear range. The Roma style has a neoprene upper and is being marketed as a commuter shoe.

When it comes to commuting, Scullion would prefer to see more Irish women copy their American counterparts and carry their fashionable shoes in a bag as they walk to work.

Power dressers should confine their high-heel habit to meetings only. When back at their desks, going out to lunch and walking to and from work they should choose a flatter shoe, says Scullion.

Working women looking for comfort should try wearing black runners to work and buy a man’s shoe in their size as they tend to have more room, he adds.

The worst offending footwear for both men and women is the slip-on shoe, says Scullion. “Your feet will slip in and out of them, forcing you to curl your toes to grip the soles. Slipping on and off lace-up shoes creates the same problem,” he cautions.

Women buying heels should look for styles where the centre of gravity of the heel is in line with your ankle, says Haughey.

Kitten heels, in vogue after a long spell in fashion Siberia, are better than the 12-inch so-called “fierce heels” as they tend to be approximately five centimetres in height. “The higher the heels, the more heel slippage you get, so keep these to a minimum,” Haughey continues.

Compromise the art and practice of medicine, says Scullion, who believes women should uphold the realistic compromise of the 60:40 rule: “Wear sensible shoes 60 per cent of the time and fashionable shoes 40 per cent of the time.”

And staying with heels, execute the following procedures before you even try on the shoes:

Feel around the inside of the shoe to determine its cushioning levels. A well-cushioned fore-sole will help reduce the burning sensation some women get from certain styles of fashion shoe.

While the shoe is still on display, put your fingertip on the centre of the heel and wiggle it. “If it rocks and can’t sit upright on the shelf, it won’t feel upright when you’re wearing it,” says Haughey.

Always shop for shoes in the late afternoon to accommodate the fact that your feet swell during the day. In carpeted shoe shops walk on the laminate flooring to get an idea of what the footwear will feel like outside on the pavement.

How many miles do you do in your shoes? asks Stephanie Haughey. “Your footwear is your vehicle, so test drive many pairs round the shop until you find the ones that make your feet feel comfortable.”

USEFUL LINKS

The website, podiatryireland.com, has a comprehensive list of registered podiatrists and chiropodists working in Ireland.

Shoefitters.org.uk lists the few remaining specialist shoe shops in Ireland that offer a qualified shoe fitting service.

The American Podiatric Medical Association (apma.org) lists a vast range of footwear companies that it has endorsed with its “Seal of Approval”. The extensive range of brands and their shoe styles is available to view on its website but the organisation fails to explain the criteria required to be endorsed. The list is also hard to find. Click on the “products we recognise” box on the home page and go into footwear category in the dropdown menu.

If buying shoes online, make sure you can return them before you commit to purchasing them as you can’t determine from an image what they will feel like. Just make sure to keep the soles clean.

HIGH FASHION: ONLY IN MODERATION

HIGH FASHION heels should be worn only in moderation

This nautical suede trim 12cm high court slip-on shoe should be worn only from the taxi to the event. The cab-to-kerb shoe offers no support.

This deep purple suede concealed wedge is a good heel height, approximately 6cm, and has a shallow gradient from heel to toe.

This zebra print absolutely flat ballet pump is too flat to offer the arch any support.

EVERYDAY COMFORT: MADE FOR WALKING

‘IF you suffer from sweaty feet, apply surgical spirits to the toe area,” says Stephanie Haughey. “It will help prevent athlete’s foot.”

Shoes hold a lot of moisture, explains Paul Gabriel Scullion, adding: “Regular changing of footwear will help control the problem. Change your socks three times a day and alternate between two pairs of shoes. Put the pair you’re not wearing in an airing cupboard, on the windowsill or on a radiator to help them dry out.”

WORKWEAR FOR MEN: CHECK THE WRIGGLE ROOM

There are a number of things to consider when buying workwear shoes. This Gibson style in black leather has a wide lace-up throat opening that means men with high arches can fit into them.

This brown Oxford leather brogue hasn’t got an adjustable throat meaning you can’t open the shoe wide enough to fit feet with high arches.

This winklepicker style lace-up will be hard on toes in the toe box. There is no wriggle room for toes.

These styles are suitable for everyday wear.

This black patent Mary Jane has a 6cm heel and is dressy enough to wear to work. It offers support across the arches, but is flat enough to walk to and from the train station or bus stop to work.

This indigo blue two-tone style has a 6cm heel, but the base of the heel is wide affording the wearer more support and a centre of gravity. It also has arch support through the strap detail.

This brown leather gladiator style has a lace-up front, a heel counter secure to the heel. It also has a slight heel to support the arches.

WEEKEND CASUAL: DO THE BEND TEST

Choose a style that lets you put your best foot forward. This cream-coloured leather trainer style with stripe detail protects the toes and its adjustable lacing allows for expansion to get the foot into the shoe. The shoe also has enough room to accommodate an orthotic or insole.

This blue denim plimsole offers some support by means of its lace-up. But the sole is too flat and it fails the “bend test”– it bends like a banana.

This moccassin offers no support to your feet. It, too, fails the “bend test”. It also folds like a slipper, failing the twist test, too.

Hot tip

If you suffer from sweaty feet, apply surgical spirits to the toe area,” says Stephanie Haughey. “It will help prevent athlete’s foot.” Shoes hold a lot of moisture, explains Paul Gabriel Scullion, adding: “Regular changing of footwear will help control the problem. Change your socks three times a
day and alternate between two pairs of shoes. Put the pair you’re not wearing in an airing cupboard, on the windowsill or on a radiator to help them dry out.”