I was browsing through a discount store (that shall remain nameless) today and I was amazed by the lack of good quality shoes that were available.  One of my new duties as a pedorthist apprentice is to advise customers about which shoes are appropriate for them.  Here are a few tips that you should keep in mind the next time you are shoe shopping.

Don’t let the brand name fool you. Each brand of shoe has several different Lasts (this is like the chassis of a car – it is the floor plan of the shoe). Just because you have liked a shoe from that company in the past, don’t automatically assume that another style in that same brand will work for you.

Width matters. Buy the appropriate width for your feet; you should be able to get the shoe snug enough with at least 1” of tongue showing between the sides of the shoe in the front, if you can’t, it the shoe is too wide. If the laces are straining to keep both sides of the shoe together, you need a wider size. Also, check the heel width, your heel should be cupped comfortably – it should not be able to slip up and down out of the back of the shoe.

Which is your bigger foot? Most people have slightly mismatched feet. Never try on just one shoe. Even if the overall lengths of your feet are identical, the arch lengths or heights may vary. When you put the shoe on, lace it up all the way and walk up and down the aisle a few times, then pinch the toes of the shoes, you should have to slightly dent in the material of the shoe in order to touch your toes in any direction.

Heel counters are important.  The sides of the shoe, especially the parts near the heel (which is called the heel counter), help to guide your feet each time they strike the ground. If the shoe is not firm enough, your feet will be able to slop around as you walk. This will cause the shoes to break down quickly and can open the door for injuries, aches and pains. In order to test the stability of the heel counter, squeeze the heel of the shoe right where the heel cup (the part that surrounds your heel) meets the midsole (the part that your heel steps on). It should feel very firm. If you can easily dent it in with one hand, find a better shoe.

Check the midsole. The midsole is the cushiony part of the shoe between the floor and your foot.  There are two important factors involved in checking the midsole:

                                 How firm is it? Put the shoe on a flat hard surface and try to press your thumb into the midsole (both from the outside and the inside of the shoe) Does it squish easily? If it does, you will love the cushiony feeling of your new shoes for about a month. After that, the foam will compress and begin to break down. If the midsole feels firm, your shoes will be more durable and should last longer. Shoes with very hard midsoles (like work boots) can last a very long time, but people with knee, hip or back pain may not be able to tolerate them because the shoes do not absorb much shock.

 

                              Where is it firm? Take note if the midsole is more firm in some places than others. A common feature of some athletic shoes is to make the area under the arch out of a higher density foam – usually this foam is a dark grey color. This feature is intended to discourage the foot from rolling inward (called pronating), and it works pretty well. But be cautious: if you do not pronate when you walk, this denser foam could cause your foot to roll outward (called supinating).  If you don’t know for sure that you pronate, try to buy a neutral shoe that has the same density foam all the way around.

 

There are more things to look for when buying shoes, but this information is enough to help you spot shoes that are good quality and appropriate.  Remember: shoes that are suitable for your feet will wear out more slowly, so shop carefully.

A word of advice: if you are going to be cheap, you also must be selective. Very often shoe brands will offer several levels of quality in their shoes. Don’t buy the lowest level. You are better off buying last year’s model of a mid-level quality shoe than buying the newest version of a low-level shoe. The lowest price levels of each brand are usually not durable at all. You will end up having to buy shoes more often, when $15 more could have gotten you a shoe that would last several months longer.

One last tip: before you even put the shoe on, lift it up out of the box and weigh it in your hand. Does it feel surprisingly light? If so, be extra cautious. Super light models are often made out of very flimsy materials. Unless you are a racer, it is not worth it to trade a few extra ounces of “beefiness” for durability. Weigh your options carefully (pun intended.)

Walk well.

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