Entering my 9th year of practice I’ve noticed something rather common amongst patients I see complaining of generalized foot pain. It’s the phrase, “I’ve tried several different pairs of shoes, and nothing seems to work”. We live in a society that believes in order for us to have healthy feet, we need to have “good” shoes. The question then becomes what is a good shoe? Is it a $200 running shoe? A $300 dress shoe hand crafted with Italian leather with a 3/4 indestructible heel? Don’t forget the ever popular saying, “you get what you pay for”. Not exactly when it comes to shoes. At least when your looking at pain relief.
Consider the function of a shoe.
Really, it only serves to protect the foot, not enhance it. Irene Davis, Director of the Spaulding National Running Center at Harvard Medical School, provides an outstanding lecture on barefoot running and shoes (which can be seen here) where she agrees that shoes really only serve to protect the foot. What is it providing protection from? Mainly the environmental factors- stones, rocks, rough surfaces, cold or hot surfaces, and pretty much anything that can damage your skin.
What if you have an injury like plantar fasciitis?
This is the topic of another subject where I could write for hours (if not days). A shoe can be considered necessary when initially treating plantar fasciitis, but really its only to “splint” the foot. Simply put it should give those tired muscles a break. The shoe could be a cushioned running shoe, a cam walker, or even a cast. The function is to give the foot musculature a break and allow healing to occur. NOT SUPPORT THE FOOT FOR LONG TERM. This is where our society has yet to understand the function of a shoe. There exists a stigma that enables most individuals to think shoes need to support our feet or they can’t function without a “supportive” shoe. In other words, we don’t give out feet any credit and basically set them up for failure by inferring that the feet alone can’t support our body. Isn’t that what they were designed to do?
What shoes should I wear?
This is a question I cannot answer. I can however advise you what you shouldn’t wear. A shoe should not be rigid in any manner, it should not “support” the arch, and it should allow all motions that can occur in the foot to occur. This may come as a shock to most people, but remember, before the 70’s, the shoes that you shouldn’t wear don’t exist.
“A shoe should allow you to run, not enable you to run.”