Maybe it is because my dog, a dachshund, is so close to the ground that my eyes are often pointed in that direction. Or perhaps it is because there are so many dogs where I live that it is a hazard not to watch out where one’s shoes are stepping. For whatever reason, I find myself studying shoes and the way people are walking in them. I have no training in feet, or walking for that matter, but was taught in a workshop on running techniques to watch out for a common tendency of our feet to roll toward each other while ambulating. This is a condition known as pronation. I remember the instructor holding up the soles of a pair of running shoes and pointing to the area on the inner portion of the heel where there was much more wear than on the outside area. “The person who wore these shoes pronates. His feet roll towards his ankles when they hit the pavement,” he told us, “And if he continues running or walking this way? His knees, back and hips will begin to hurt. He needs shoes that stabilize his feet and let him land squarely on the pavement. “
That running instructor’s words came to mind as I plodded along behind a woman with soft, slipper-like shoes so unequally worn that I wondered how her feet did not bump into each other. Each foot was rolling toward each so that instead of the soles of her feet hitting the pavement, it almost looked as if she was walking on her inner anklebones. “How she can walk that way?” I thought. “Should I say something? Isn’t she in pain?” and yet of course, I said nothing. What was I going to say….get thee to a foot doctor?
Of course, not everyone walks on the side of their shoes rather than on the bottoms, but there must be many people, like this woman, who don’t have a clue about what kind of walking shoes prevent pain and injuries from the way their feet hit the ground. The unfit, the wannabe fit, and the already fit are all told to walk as much as possible. Smartphones and bracelets measure the number of steps we take everyday, and we are routinely advised to wear comfortable shoes with good support while we are doing this.
And most of us, going out for an exercise walk, probably do wear appropriate footgear. But what about all the other times we are walking? I somehow doubt that people, probably women (because men’s shoes are so much sturdier and sensible), have available to them much of a selection of shoes that support their feet, prevent them from rolling toward each other, keep their arches in alignment andlook good. Bright green, pink and yellow sneakers may be really cute, but don’t quite go with business attire. The clunky, oh so comfortable black or white shoes worn by restaurant workers or nurses just don’t have the fashion panache most of us would like.
Moreover, where do we go for advice before we go shoe shopping? Who is going to tell us to turn our shoes upside down to check for pronation? Who is going to tell the woman I described that, given her extreme pronation problem, she really ought not to wear shoes with the support of a pair of socks? When someone complains about knee or back pain, who is going to ask, “What kind of shoes do you wear… and let me see if they are responsible for your problem?” And is anyone advising people carrying around excess weight that maybe flip-flops are not giving them enough support; that ballet slippers with no arch support or 4-inch heels may cause them so much pain that sitting, rather than walking, will be the preferred activity?
So we put our feet into often quite dysfunctional shoes with all the comfort of the slipper tried on by Cinderella’s sisters.
But where are we going to get advice that Brand X will give us the support and cushioning and fit we need, and Brands Y and Z will not, even though the shoes look more or less alike? Think of where many women buy their shoes: on-line, at big box stores, at clothing/shoe discount stores, even at boutiques whose sales clerks may know the latest fashion, but couldn’t tell a bunion from a beet. There are stores that specialize in walking shoes, but here too, very few of the people lugging boxes of shoes from the inventory room will turn your old shoes upside down to see if you are pronating, or ask you to walk around the store to check your stride.
And really, how many physicians, especially those specializing in injuries and /or pain in our legs, knees, hips and backs, ever talk about how we walk? I once had a physician who was a runner himself with the aches and pains common to runners. But in our discussion of knee problems and plantar fasciitis, neither of us ever looked at the bottoms of our shoes to see whether they were unequally worn down. And I would venture to guess that few health clubs offering a free evaluation of a new member’s balance, muscular strength, and aerobic status, include an appraisal of how the new member walks, and whether his or her shoes are suitable.
Perhaps free walking evaluations should be available at health fairs, or during health awareness days in the workplace. What about putting out information in the waiting rooms of doctor offices? Pictures of what the bottom of a shoe looks like when extreme pronation occurs could be posted near the ubiquitous shelves of corn removers and arch supports in drug stores.
Granted, feet that hurt are not problems in the same league as global warming or asteroids hitting the earth…But knowing what kind of shoes to wear so that walking from point A to point B will put a smile, rather than a grimace, on your face goes a long way to making you likely to continue to walk.