Your walking shoes must deliver both, cushioning and support, or you’ll pay the consequences with all sorts of aches and pains.
A fitness expert’s advice on how to shop for the right pair!
Ever since walking became the fitness exercise, researchers all over the world have worked to create shoes that will protect and pamper the feet of walkers.
The latest fitness walking shoes boast of high-tech, toe-tickling, sole-snapping innovations like energy return systems, gas- or silicon-fitted shock absorbers, acupressure massagers, lining that wick away moisture and heat, hidden passages that rotate air from head to toe, rear reflective stripes for night walking, inflatable pumps to customize the fit, all in a mind-boggling array of materials straight out of NASA.
You may not need – or want – all of these add-ons. Still, there are certain minimum features and qualities that you must look for in a fitness shoe in order to reap optimal benefits from your walking programme.
Here’s a bottomline guide from Dominic D’Silva, Sports Medicine Consultant and Orthopedic Surgeon.
MAKE THE SHOE FIT
Use the rule of the thumb. There should be a space as large as your thumb between the tip of your big toe and the end of your shoe. Your shoe must flex when your foot flexes in order to maintain the spring in your step.
Don’t go by manufacturers’ sizes. These can differ from product to product. What’s more, your foot size can change, not only as you grow, but also as you age or if you injure your feet. So try on both shoes every time you but a pair – preferably at the end of the day when your feet are actually slightly larger.
To check whether your shoes are just right, draw around your feet on a piece of stiff cardboard and cut it out. Try to put the foot shape into your proposed pair of shoes. If it buckles, so will your shoes.
The wrong fit can cause bunions and hammer-toes.
THE SOLE OF THE MATTER
The soles are shock absorbers, so must be light, firm and flexible. You should be able to bend the sole easily just in front of the tongue so that your fore-foot can propel you each time you hit the ground. Heavy walkers need thicker and more shock-absorbent soles.
The sole has three layers:
1. An outer-sole which should be water-resistant and wear-resistant as these qualities determine the durability of the shoe. It should provide traction and protect.
2. A mid-sole which can be shock-absorbent. The advantages of using air cushions as shock absorbers over more conventional materials still remain to be scientifically proved. (Remember, walking shoes have thinner mid-soles than running shoes.)
3. An in-sole, which is a detachable layer and should be firm, pliant and absorbent in order to prevent pressure effects like corns and blisters. The arch cushion gives extra support to the arch and may be part of the in-sole. Inadequate soles can cause corns and blisters.
The toe area must accommodate the natural spread of your foot while you walk. Make sure that you can wriggle your toes easily and that they can point up to 45 degrees.
Inadequate toe room can crowd the toes together and lead to deformities like hammer toes which may need surgical correction.
The lower the heels, the better the distribution of body weight on the feet. Higher heels cause more weight to be borne by the toes and the fore-feet – and can cause calluses and corns.
A heel-cushion should be ½ to ¾ inch thick. A too-thin cushion won’t protect you. A too-thick one will distort your stride. If your thumbnail sinks easily into the heel portion, it’s too soft and your legs will tire easily as though you were walking on squashy sand.
Inadequate heel cushioning can cause excessive friction on the Achilles’ tendon, with subsequent bursitis and tendinitis. A heel wedge worn inside the shoe 10 to 15 mm high is indicated for people with Achilles’ tendinitis.
A heel cup or counter wraps around the heel and stabilizes the foot. It should be snug but not tight, and should be made of rigid material that bends very little when you push on it so that your foot will not roll outward with every step you take. The heel cup should run at least one-fifth the length of the shoe towards the toe on both sides.
Inadequate heel cups can result in instability of the hind feet, causing the heels to roll in on impact which may give rise to heel pain (plantar fasciitis or bursitis at the back of the heels.)
Arches must be supported, especially when they are flat or dropped, in which case a high cut for the shoes is necessary.
Inadequate arch supports can bring on chronic foot strain and a decrease in springiness of stride. They can also cause excessive wear of the inner sole and heel counter.
High arches can lead to calluses or corns under the ball of the foot.
Padding around the ankle keeps the shoe from cutting into the flesh.
Inadequate ankle support can cause chronic pain or sprains, especially in those with chronic or recurrent ankle instabilities.
Upper should be flexible but firm. Variable width lacing can accommodate both narrow and broad feet.
A soft, flimsy upper can increase the risk of foot sprain due to excessive side-to-side mobility.
Cushioned tongues allow you to tie up your laces without hurting.
IT’S TIME FOR A NEW PAIR WHEN…
An old shoe may seem comfortable, but can direct your foot to lean one way or another, which can lead to strain or injury.
Most walking shoes should be replaced after 800-1000 miles, by which time the uppers have stretched so much that they can’t hold your foot over the side of the shoe.
It’s time for a new pair when:
The heel counter doesn’t feel sturdy or begins to collapse.
The toe area is wobbly.
Bulges appear over the edge of the sole. Don’t wait till the outer sole is worn out, for the mid-sole will have lost its resilience long before then.
The lining is wrinkled.
The shoe “feels dead”.