When our feet hurt our first reaction is to wear shoes that are soft and cushioning, a pair of house slippers is a real favourite with some patients or a pair of Crocs with others, as this instantly reduces the pain. The thought of putting on a hard pair of shoes, such as a leather soled brogue or pair of high heels, is the furthest thing from our mind.
The only problem with this approach is that it can often make things worse in the long run. The best analogy to explain this is the feeling of walking on a soft sandy beach. There is no foot pain but after walking for 30 minutes the legs, hips and back start to ache and you feel tired. The reason for this is best explained by simple walking biomechanics. Every step we take is simply the body moving from point a to b as efficiently as possible. As we lift one foot off the ground, the body starts to fall forward. The legs job is to make sure this fall is controlled and that the other foot lands safely before we fall flat on our face. When walking on sand our feet sink vertically into the ground and more energy is required to keep us ‘falling’ forward. This extra energy comes from muscles activity around the lower back and hips resulting in fatigue.
The same thing happens with a soft pair of shoes as energy is lost as the sole of the shoe collapses and the body has to work harder to keep moving forward, just like on the beach. A 0.5% increase in energy expenditure multiplied by the average of 10,000 steps taken in a day means a whole lot of extra stress placed on the body.
So what’s the best advice?
Simply if you are doing lots of walking, wear a more supportive pair of shoes, such as a pair of running sneakers, as they give the best of both worlds - support and cushioning!