Shoes – part 2

“So why,” you ask, “are shoes so important then, Chris?”

Because the shape, density, size, last, lacing system and materials of the shoe will ‘suggest’ a way of moving that you will, even if subtly, adapt to over time.  This is very important because if it serves you, then that’s great.  If it doesn’t, then you’ll be adding even more stress to your system – and do we really need more stress?

I’m sure I will hear the wails of dismay when you read this blog.  Stay with me – the news is not all bad.  In fact, in the next blog, I’ll have a video for you on something quick and easy to do to change your existing shoes for the better and some thoughts about how you can manage the poor biomechanics of some companies’ designs.

OK, let’s look at the dominant “problems” that people have, then, next time, we’ll look at why that’s important in looking for shoes.  Keep in mind that this is only a sample and as such, is only dealing in fairly large generalities.  Really – send me some pics and I’ll talk about specificities until you can stand it anymore.

Inversion – commonly called ‘pronation’ by shoe store salespeople who haven’t a clue; this is what happens when the inside of the ankle moves inward to the midline and down toward the floor.  Along with this, the arch of the foot flattens and the knees have a tendency to roll inward slightly and you’ll see far more weight moving down the inside of the person’s legs and feet than the outside.

Eversion – this is far less common, but is the tendency of the individual to walk on the outsides of their feet.  You’ll see the ankles move away from the midline of the body and the majority of the weight of the body rest on the outsides of the feet.  You’ll also see a marked tendency for the legs to be turned out and for the person to land on the outside of the heel.  People who have “bow legs” often have this pattern.  More often than not, I see this only on one side of a person.

Heel walking – Often, you’ll hear these folks coming before you see them.  They sound like they weigh far more than they actually do.  Their heel touches the ground way out in front of their body (looking at them from the side), and the shock from the impact travels up their leg, bounces off their hip, with part of it reflecting up into the spine and part of it traveling back down into the ground, producing a “THUD” with each step.  High heels produce the same effect, but only because you can’t do anything else (unless you’re like a certain few very strong and well-coordinated Pilates instructors I know in Portland, OR),

The ball-twist
– this can happen in many different patterns, and is marked by coming off the ball of the foot with a twist, so that from the back you’ll see their heel wobble back and forth right before their foot leaves the ground.  The path of action through the foot isn’t straight, so in order to get across to the other foot, when the person pushes off their foot, they have to twist through the ball of their foot to correct the path of action and get across to the other foot.

How to do it properly.  We’ll talk about walking in other posts, but here let’s focus on how it relates to shoes.  The path of action that you have through your foot when walking and the way your body lines up in gravity can be supported or hindered by your shoes.

Let’s take a look, for a moment at the bone structure of the foot:

I’ve taken the liberty of drawing a line through it so you can see the obvious – your foot bones line up in a  path that allows for straight-forward movement.  Let me say that slightly differently – your feet are straight!  I find it by degrees both amusing and horrifying that most shoe companies seem to have missed this detail when they build their shoes.  Most shoes are built with a fairly large angle deviation between the front and back of the shoe.

OK, having said that, let’s take a look at one of the most important and easily observable things about shoes – something that’s called the last.  The last of a shoe is it’s base, the foundation of it.  It is the prime part of the shoe in terms of what it will suggest in terms of the path of action your foot will take.  Why are we focusing on this?  Two reasons:

1) I’ve found it to be one of the easiest things to identify for people
2) I’ve found that good selection of last makes the most difference with the least amount of learning.

The easiest way to see what the last is like is to look at the bottom of the shoe.  Here’s what to look for: does the middle of the back of the shoe line up with the front of the shoe?  I’ve found that with a little education, folks can see this very easily.

I’ve taken the liberty of going to a local shoe outlet and taking photos of the bottoms of a bunch of different shoes – some athletic, some dress – so that you can get the idea and start applying it in your own shopping.

Let’s start with some athletic shoes.

About every third kid I see these days has a pair of All-Stars on – I had a pair when I was a kid.  Notice, though, the change in angle.  I’ve got it as about 12-13 degrees.

By way of contrast, here’s another, more of a running shoe.  I’ve got this as less than 5 degrees (which seems to be the point at which it starts to make a difference).

And, just to make sure that you know (’cause you’ve probably been smart and are figuring out who makes what shoes), not all shoes by the same manufacturer have the same last:

This one’s 8-9 degrees – a little high for my liking, but still in a somewhat acceptable range.

OK, now let’s take a look at a few dressier shoes – stuff you might consider for work.  Ever wonder why you come home from the office feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck?  It just might be your shoes.

These, as you can see from the manufacturer’s mark, are a fairly well-regarded brand.  Great stuff, but the deviation in the last (12-13 degrees by my count) puts quite a strain on your foot with every step.  Where does that strain go?  Up.

Here’s another well-regarded shoe.  They look nice, would look great with the right suit, but don’t plan on walking around in them much.

Fortunately, the news does get better, and it certainly gets a whole lot worse.  Look at these first, then we’ll look at some good examples:

If I were being generous (which I actually think I was, looking at my arrows), these would have a 17 degree deviation.  Visualize, for a moment, what your foot has to do within the confines of this shoe in order to make this work – and what kind of torque that puts on your knee and hip.

OK – here’s some better news:

These are pretty much spot-on my 5-degree rule – and they looked good, too.

These were also right on that 5-degree mark (and a darn fine shoe, as well).

So, let’s focus for another moment on why this angle deviation is important, and then next time we’ll talk about what you can do with your athletic shoes to make them work even better.

The angle change is important because it causes your foot to turn inward in mid-stride, causing a cascade-effect of deviation and compensation upwards in the body.  It may be small, but my law of small insults tells me that anything, even if small, when given enough time and repetition will produce some big problems.

That little small twist causes a ripple effect all the way up your body, as your body works toward maintaining balance while moving.  The idea of compensation for changes in environment is nothing new to your body, but the repetition of exactly the same thing over and over can be catastrophic over time.  We’ve all heard of Repetitive Motion Injury or Repetitive Stress Injury – this is precisely what’s happening to your body over time with shoes.

Now it’s up to you – pay some attention to it now or you’ll have to pay far, far more attention to it later.  In the next post, I’ll talk about how you can modify what you’ve got so it works better for you.

Shoes – helpful or not?

I get a lot of questions from folks about what type of shoes they have, what they should use, what their fitness guru/doctor/shoe salesman/dog told them that they should use.  The truth is that there is a lot of information out there – too much, most of the time.

Here’s the thing to remember: most of the stuff you will hear is just advertising noise, which is not a bad thing, it’s just not in your best interests to listen.  Callous attitude?  Not at all, just what I call ‘enlightened self-interest’.

Of course everyone is going to say that their shoe is the best. What kind of marketing message would it be if they said, “Look, we know that you haven’t a clue about what shoe to buy.  We make a good shoe, but it’s built to a statistical model of a human being and has a certain set of assumptions that have gone into the design and therefore won’t fit anyone precisely.  BUT, we’re a big company with a lot of overhead, employees and stockholders that need us to turn a profit, so regardless of what YOU may actually need, BUY OUR SHOES!”

Anyone in half of their right mind wouldn’t buy jack-diddly from someone who said that, right?

Even more so, beware of the shoe company that says, “Our shoes are good for EVERYONE.” That basically says that all people are the same – which, if you look up from this post for a moment and watch the people walking down the sidewalk for more than 30 seconds, you’ll see is utter hogwash.  People are built differently, walk differently and, because life is inherently stressful, have developed different strategies for handling their ouchies, which lead to all sorts of interesting patterns.

So, looking more at that subject of ‘enlightened self-interest’, we want to learn some basic concepts and ideas about what’s going on in our bodies and what to look for in a shoe that will help us with our particular set of issues.

Over the next few entries here, I’ll do my very best to educate you about some of the dominant issues I see with people’s locomotion and how that relates to shoes.  You can also send me in some pictures of you standing (front and back, please, without shoes on) and I’ll use you as an example and talk to what I see happening with you specifically.

In the meantime, here’s one of the most important things to remember about shoes: you are not just your feet.  There is a marked tendency toward specialization in all fields, body care as well.  The problem is that is that the bio-mechanics of the body cannot be adequately isolated into compartments.  Said another way – you cannot treat just one part of the body by itself: if you do, you’re just asking for more trouble down the road.

By all means, buy good shoes that match you as well as possible – but don’t just stop there.  Exercise regularly, stretch often, eat well, get enough sleep, drink plenty of good water, etc. (you know this stuff already, I’m just reminding you).