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Linda Mundorff

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The Benefits of Proper Footwear

September 2008
By Dr. Linda Mundorff, MPH,MSN,ND,RN,CNC,CTN

The human foot has approximately 26 bones, muscles and joints for movement, ligaments and tendons. The feet bear the weight of the body and a person will generally walk an average of 70,000 miles per lifetime. It isn't an easy task especially if you are overweight or have muscular-skeleton issues. The feet have an extra layer of protective cushiony skin, which sheds often leaving the heels especially dry and rough. Feet also contain sweat glands which secret about a dozen gallons of sweat per foot per year. Unless you wear moisture wicking socks, most of that moisture will end up being absorbed by your socks, keeping your feet wet. Moist feet will soften making it easier to develop blisters. Although cotton has great absorbency it doesn't allow the moisture to evaporate. Look for socks with a cotton-blend; the blend should be composed of wicking material such as Thermolite, CoolMax or Holofil. In the winter, wear wool socks; its natural fibers provides warmth even when wet.

The next issue is one of proper fitting. I hate when my socks fall down my leg or bunch up into my shoe, exposing the back of my foot and heel, making it difficult and uncomfortable to walk. I constantly have to stop to pull my socks up or to dig inside my shoe to fix the sock. I also have a small foot and so most socks tend to be too large. Unfortunately, a sock that is too large will cause friction against the skin resulting in blisters, as well as cause the shoe to feel tighter. Conversely, if the sock is too small they will restrict your circulation and heat your feet.

What good are socks if they are uncomfortable, or cause your feet to be hot and sweaty? Well trust me, there are wonderful socks out there; you just have to try them on just as you do a pair of new shoes. For example, socks should be smooth against the skin with no poking seams or irritated material. Our toes need room to wiggle in a sock just like they do in footwear. So when shopping for socks you need to purchase gender and age appropriate styles. What this means is this: kids socks are designed for the small and growing foot, while women's socks are made for a smaller foot with a rounded toe box, and narrower heels. When a manufacturer touts a sock is unisex, what is really being said is that the sock has been tailored and modeled to fit the male foot.

Our feet do the most growing during puberty and then level off. However pregnancy and age will cause our feet to widen and if we wear ill-fitting shoes our toes will eventually show signs of bone deformity in the shape of bunions, hammertoes; and skin thickness in the form of corns and calluses. Surprisingly most people, especially women, wear shoes that do not fit correctly. The shoe is either too narrow, too wide, slides back and forth, pinches in-between the toes or on the top of the foot. It is important to try on shoes later in the day as our feet can swell a little. It is also important to try on both shoes, as one foot is usually slightly larger than the other. So you want to size for the larger foot. Your toes should be able to move around the box of the shoe and not be pushed against each other. If you can't push down on your big toe to get at least ½ inch of place then wiggle your toe and push it up against the top of the shoe to see if you have room. Never buy shoes that hurt, even if a little – don't make the mistake of thinking that shoes have to be broken in. It is not the shoe that gets broken in but your foot! If the shoes hurt in the store they are going to hurt worse outside when you are wearing them all day.

Many people are very frugal when it comes to buying shoes. You only have one pair of feet, treat them well and they will treat you well for years to come. If you buy cheap shoes, man-made materials, shoes that trap air rather than allow the air to circulate, and shoes that are ill fitting then you will suffer in the long run and spend more money in seeing a podiatrist. Start instilling the benefits of good foot maintenance in your children. Children under the age of one do not need shoes (unless it is cold outside and you want to protect the feet). Children need to learn how to walk and it is easier barefooted so they can feel the texture and contours of the ground, while learning to have the foot hit the floor in the appropriate way. They can't do this easily if their feet are stuffed into poor fitting little shoes. As soon as the child is walking you should take them to a specialty children's shoe store (as the discount store or department store salesperson is not trained for the special needs of a child's foot). It is important to have the foot measured and to observe the child walk to assess any potential foot issues.

Footwear should be replaced when worn-out, for example, holes; rundown sole, worn-out insoles, uneven heel wear and so on. You could certainly have the shoes repaired but why bother when there is plenty of great discount shoe stores springing up all over the Country. Stores like DSW, Off-Broadway Shoes, Famous Footwear and others offer name brands and excellent quality shoes at a fraction of their original price.

Good fitting socks and footwear are essential if you want to prevent years of pain, discomfort, and expense. In addition to proper foot gear good hygiene is imperative. This includes keeping feet clean and dry, clipping and filing toenails, and maintaining healthy skin. Skin that is rough, dry, or cracked provides a place for fungal infections. Your toenails should be smooth and soft not hard and brittle or overgrown which usually results from fungal infections. Lastly, healthy feet should not feel hot and sweaty; nor should you suffer from foot odor, itchiness, or discoloration.

Freedom of movement is more than just the muscles of your arms and legs it includes your feet. Don't take them for granted. Take care of your feet and they will take care of you in return.

Here's to your healthy traveling!

Disclaimer:Dr. Mundorff is a Board Certified Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases. Naturopathy is a complementary practice to health care and should be used in conjunction with a competent health care practitioner. Many herbal and homeopathic remedies can actually be contraindicated in many health conditions, with certain prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications. Please consult your physician before starting any alternative modalities.