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How to choose the right footwear

Wearing incorrect footwear can cause major back and joint pain, so shoe brands are creating products that ensure healthy feet. With so many varieties available, how do you choose which are right for you?

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Wearing incorrect footwear can cause major back and joint pain, so shoe brands are creating products that ensure healthy feet. With so many varieties available, how do you choose which are right for you? Ritu Raizada asks the experts.

Does your job involve standing or walking for several hours a day?

Have you been experiencing pain in your lower and upper back for quite some time but have been ignoring it? Do you believe it is the result of a demanding job or bad posture?

The above reasons are contributing factors but it could also be because you're wearing the wrong kind of shoes. Experts say that your choice of footwear could affect your back, knees and other joints in your lower body.

While the way you walk may have an impact on your foot's health, the ground you walk on does play a part. City dwellers usually walk in tight-fitting or heavy-soled shoes on hard and flat surfaces as opposed to uneven, soft ones.

This, according to health experts, causes the feet to slowly lose their ability to react to the rich physical sensory stimuli uneven surfaces offer. It eventually leads to the degeneration of the feet's sensory system.

A few shoe manufacturers have stepped in to address the situation created by modern lifestyle, since few people have the time or the energy to give their feet the necessary care. They have launched what they term 'fitness-oriented' or 'physiological footwear'.

Aimed at a cross section of people, particularly professionals who have to spend long hours standing or walking, these shoes boast 'in-built gymnasiums'. Leg, calf and thigh muscles get toned every time one walks or stands in them. Some types even claim to help correct gait and posture.

Dr Sami Tabib, podiatrist at the Chiropody Centre in Jumeirah, Dubai, has the following advice to offer: "Before you buy any specialised shoe which claims to have features that can heal your back or joint problem, first consult a podiatrist. He will be able to advise about the kind of footwear that you require."

Flat feet is a common condition that can contribute to poor functioning of the foot. It can cause severe back aches and pain in the heel, ankles and knees, says Dr Tabib.

Dr M.Y. Raslan agrees. "Flat feet is a condition known as 'overpronation'," says the chiropractor at Dental Spa in Jumeirah.

"It can throw the entire body out of balance. Typically, flat feet cause the legs to roll in (the feet rotate inwards when walking and the pelvis tilts forward). The result is an increase in spinal curvature and continuous tension in the muscles of the lower back, causing discomfort and pain," explains Dr Raslan.

"Maintaining an incorrect posture while walking and sitting can also contribute towards pain in the knees and ankles. But the incorrect choice of footwear is a primary reason for back and heel pain," he says.


However, thanks to their small size and intricate structure and because a tremendous amount of force is produced when we walk or run, the joints and ligaments in the feet undergo a high degree of stress and strain every day.

"Each foot has two arches and 28 bones," says Dr Raslan. "One arch is called the longitudinal arch and it runs along the length of the foot. The other is the transverse arch which runs along the width of the foot. The bones are held together by a thick tissue called ligament. Fat pads in our feet help to bear the weight of the body and absorb impact during weight-bearing exercises."

According to experts, putting on the wrong kind of footwear increases the chances of discomfort and pain in the feet and back. When a person experiences pain in the foot or back, he alters his style of walking to avoid or lessen the intensity of the pain. But if we change the way we walk, we exert pressure on other areas of the body and the result is that those areas may get affected.

Normally, foot pain is caused from wearing shoes that fit incorrectly or force feet into awkward positions. When someone complains of foot pain, it means that something is happening in terms of the interaction of the foot's internal structures or how the foot is relating to something externally. How, when and where the pain occurs helps the doctor look for the root of the problem.

"If you have sensitive feet or numerous foot problems, orthotic soles might be a solution for you. A podiatrist will advise you on using special shoes or inserts to relieve your foot woes," says Dr Raslan. On average, experts say, every half kilogram gain in weight results in an additional 2kg of pressure on the joints. "Be sensible and wear good quality shoes that fit your feet correctly," adds Dr Raslan.


Currently, the foot mapping facility is available at The Athletes Foot in Mall of the Emirates and at Feet Lab in Dubai Mall.


''Plantar fasciitis is another common foot condition," he says. "It is a leading cause of heel pain. The condition is caused by the inflammation of the plantar fascia a section of tissue which runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes.'' This tissue, which is similar to a ligament, supports the arch of the foot and acts as a shock-absorber. Plantar fasciitis can result from small injuries to the fascia. The section most prone to injury is where the plantar fascia joins the heel bone. ''The condition is usually treated with medication, orthoses or physical therapy. More severe cases may require surgery," says Dr Tabib.

"There is the issue of ingrown toenails," he says. "This is another common painful condition. You can prevent this by wearing shoes that fit well. Also avoid aggressive pedicures."

Diabetics should take special care of their feet, says Dr Tabib. "Diabetes can cause Diabetic Charcot foot. In this condition, diabetic neuropathy leads to the collapse of the bones in the mid-foot. People with diabetes often have poor arterial circulation and nerve damage, so they are at an increased risk of a foot injury or infection. They should inspect their feet regularly for injuries and wounds, keep their feet clean and make sure that they wear shoes that fit properly."

Put a sock on it

"The right kind of socks help tremendously in not only absorbing sweat, but also in preventing blisters from forming," says Dr Raslan.

"They cushion your feet and lend stability when you walk or run in shoes. Socks protect your feet against potential injuries as they absorb the shock first. They also protect your foot's skin against yeast infections in your shoe," Raslan said.


Don't tread too high stilettos may be many a woman's best friend but "too much of anything is bad for the health," warns Dr Raslan. It may be OK to wear heels occasionally but wearing heels greater than two inches regularly should be avoided, he says.

Regular use of such shoes could lead to back ache, weakening of ankle muscles and shortening of calf musculature, he says.

"When you wear high heel shoes," says Dr Tabib, "it puts the foot in a plantar flexed (foot pointing downwards) position, placing an increased amount of pressure on the forefoot.

This means that the rest of the body has to adjust itself in order to maintain balance. The lower part of the body leans forward and to compensate for that, the upper part of the body must lean back to maintain balance. This is not the body's normal standing position.

''When walking, the plantar flexed position of the foot prevents it from pushing off the ground with as much force as may be required. This causes the hip flexor and leg muscles to work harder to move and pull the body forward. With the foot in a downward position, there is a significant increase in the pressure on the lower portion (plantar) of the forefoot. The pressure increases depending on the height of the shoe heel. Wearing a three-quarter inch heel increases the pressure on the bottom of the forefoot by 76 per cent. The increased pressure may lead to pain or foot deformities such as hammer toes, bunions, bunionettes (tailor's bunions) and neuromas."



"Orthotics are primarily designed to treat, adjust and support various biomechanical foot disorders. Some orthotics are simple, commercially-made devices, such as cushioned heel cups or insoles for shoes. These are sold over the counter in drug stores or other retail establishments," says Dr Tabib.

"However, the most effective orthotics are custom-made devices that are crafted to meet the specific needs of an individual. These are created using an impression of the foot called a cast which duplicates any misalignment in the foot's structure. Using the cast and computer technology, technicians in an orthotic laboratory design a device that balances out deformities and corrects misalignment."

"Where orthotics control abnormal motion, 'unstable' shoes do just the opposite," he adds. "By promoting instability, they attempt to stimulate the foot and leg muscles to correct the abnormal motion."





Information courtesy of Sun and Sand Sports, Dubai