Decades of marketing and well-intentioned though misled theory has led to what most people see as the “best” shoe design for active people. It’s cushioned at heels and toes. It has an arch support. And if someone still has gait-related issues, orthotics can be thrown into the mix to give them even more support.
“You probably don’t need any of these things,” says Mark Lin, a sports podiatrist who works with amateur and professional sportspeople in the Sydney area. “Some people might benefit from them, but the vast majority won’t.”
Feet Need Support – Except That They Don’t Usually
The idea that feet need support would have come as interesting news to Roman legionaries. They typically marched 30km or more each day in sandal-like hobnailed shoes that, apart from being designed so as to avoid chafing, made no concessions to comfort and had nothing by way of cushioning and support.
“Most people don’t need extra support for their feet,” says Mark. “The muscles in your feet are made to do the job for you. Humanity didn’t evolve wearing shoes, so there’s no reason to suppose that an ordinary person’s feet need some kind of ‘help.’ In fact, if you allow your shoes to do too much of the work, the muscles that are meant to support your feet can actually become weakened. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Mark. “You’re told your feet need support, and lo and behold, after a while, they really do need it.”
The latest advance in sports footwear, such as orthotics, is to develop shoes that function with the feet and allow the feet to do the work they’re meant to do. “It’s easy to see how supportive and cushioned footwear changes the gait,” says Mark. “When people run without cushioned shoes, they land on the forefoot which absorbs the impact. With heavily cushioned shoes, they’re more inclined to land on the heel, and that transfers the shock of impact into the ankles and legs. It’s ironic, but cushioned shoes mean more impact, not less.”
As for orthotics, Mark makes them, but thinks they’re overused. “Some people need orthotics, but the Footwork Clinic doesn’t like to create dependence on orthotics. Yes, they can help athletes to run more comfortably, but they can also make them unable to run when they aren’t wearing their supportive footwear. The reasoning is the same. Providing support means that muscles aren’t doing their work. When muscles don’t work, they become weaker. At the Footwork Clinic, the aim is to strengthen the feet whenever possible, rather than weakening them by providing too much support.”
Beyond Orthotics: Letting the Feet Do the Work
If a person has been relying on supportive, cushioned shoes and orthotics for an extended time, just ditching them might not be the best idea. They may need to strengthen the supportive muscles of their feet first. A podiatrist can help.
“Most people don’t think twice about going to a dentist to get their teeth checked. Few people realise that it’s just as important to see a podiatrist and have their feet checked,” says Mark. “It’s not really possible to make good, generic recommendations that will suit everyone. However, the Footwork Clinic’s sports podiatrists aim to help active people to enjoy the freedom to walk and run without pain or injury and without orthotics. Your long-term health and mobility are a priority, and an individualised assessment will determine what, if anything, is needed to achieve that.”
The Footwork Clinic, situated in Chatswood on Sydney’s North Shore and Sydney CBD, is there to help should you have an injury or condition that you think would benefit from heat or ice treatment. They offer advanced manual therapies and a holistic and corrective care approach, with a proven track record of success in resolving acute and chronic conditions, and they will gladly offer advice to get you on the road to recovery as soon as possible.
For further information, visit the The Footwork Clinic – Leading Sports, Podiatry, Foot And Lower Limb Corrective Services to book online, or call Mark Lin or his friendly team on +61 2 9131 6891.
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The information contained in this guide is provided in good faith and is not intended to be nor is it to be used as a substitute for any sort of professional, medical or podiatric advice. An accurate diagnosis can only be made following personal consultation with a podiatrist. Any users should always seek the advice of their podiatrist, or other qualified healthcare providers before commencing any treatment.
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