I’m a lover of flip flops. They’re easy to slip on and off, they provide enough protection from the hard, uneven ground, and they let my feet breathe easily. Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals disagree. They say that flip flops are bad for your feet because they change the way you walk (your gait), don’t offer enough support, and expose your feet to more harmful bacteria. Well… it sounds like I might need a shoe change. This is where we run into problems: which shoes are best?
Here are a few factors to consider when looking for nice, healthier footwear
Thick Sole vs. Thin Sole
There are shoe companies, like MBT shoes or FitFlop, that claim that a thick, rocker sole works your muscles and keeps your whole body engaged while walking. On the other hand, there are companies that suggest minimal footwear is best, so a thinner sole will keep you walking more “naturally.” A thick sole may be inflexible and make you feel like you’re “stomping around” rather than just walking. Although the rocker soles do work more muscles, that doesn’t mean they remove the pressure on other joints. It’s more like the pressure is shifted around and NOT alleviated. However, super-thin soles don’t absorb shock and can put excess pressure on your heels, which is never a good thing. Which do you choose? Pick the shoes that alter your gait the LEAST. The goal is to walk as normally as possible. If your shoes inhibit your normal walking patterns, consider a switch in sole.
High Heel vs. Low Heel
Less is definitely best when it comes to heels. Similar to a thick sole, high heels shift your weight and put different pressure on your joints. You are made to bear weight on both the balls of your feet AND your heels. When you wear high heels, your weight is shifted to the balls of your feet exclusively. This is not good! Many heels also squish the toes together, which doesn’t support good foot health either. Your toes need a bit of wiggle room if you wish to walk properly. Professionals recommend wearing high heels for short amounts of time if you are going to wear them at all. Any shoe that makes you feel slow or uncomfortable should not be worn for long periods of time.
Cushion vs. No Cushion
Recent research suggests that less-cushioned shoes are better for your feet, but you shouldn’t avoid cushioning all together. There are roughly 20 nerve-endings in your feet, which gives you 20 opportunities to send information about your environment back to your brain. When you wear shoes with lots of extra padding, your feet aren’t able to read the environment very well. This can be a bit of a handicap because you aren’t using all of the cool features your body is equipped with. If you don’t use your feet as intended, then they will weaken – just like any other part of your body. The trick is to find a shoe that doesn’t fit either extreme; wear what works for you.