This post actually came about as I’d asked one of our PTs about brands that offer comfortable yet stylish shoes. My mother has been having problems finding comfortable footwear and, like many women, didn’t like the looks of the shoes that doctors had recommended. Gini, at one time, had run a shoe store out of her PT clinic for this very reason — patients with foot and orthopedic problems were having a hard time finding stylish shoes that wouldn’t be bad for their health.
Once I had her advice for my mother in hand, I turned to our marketing director at Physiquality and suggested that more people would want to hear Gini’s advice, and he agreed.
Buying the right shoe for whole-body health
with advice from Virginia Davis, PT, MA
Whether you’re young or old, the wrong pair of shoes can lead to pain from (almost) your head to your toes. High heels can damage your back, knees and feet while increasing your risk for ankle sprains or breaks; they can also lead to arthritis, foot deformities, poor posture, plantar fasciitis and balance impairments. The lack of arch support and foot protection in flip-flops can lead to a number of issues, including tendinitis and stress fractures.
So how can you pick a pair of shoes that is good for your feet?
Some women may not want to hear it, but the first step is to walk away from the high heels. Look for flats or low wedges; while a wedge helps to distribute the weight of your feet throughout the sole of the shoe, if its incline is more than an inch or two, it will still affect your body’s alignment, which can cause knee and back pain.
Both men and women should try to avoid thinking of comfortable or healthy shoes as orthopedic shoes. “The term ‘orthopedic shoes’ conjures up an image of a clunky, heavy and unattractive shoe to treat a medical condition,” says Brian Hoke, a physical therapist and a member of the Vasyli Medical Think Tank. This misperception is a big part of the problem in getting people into footwear that supports the natural anatomy and biomechanics of the foot. Brian notes that many manufacturers have embraced a much more fashion-forward approach to supportive footwear that blends fashion and function.
Physical therapist Gini Davis Agrees, asserting that it is possible to find footwear that is both stylish and comfortable. “Fashion does not have to go out the window because of foot pain, hard to fit feet, orthotics, or on-the-job comfort,” says Gini, owner of Crescent City Physical Therapy (a Physiquality member in New Orleans).
Aside from more widely-known brands like Taryn Rose (created by a podiatrist turned shoe designer) and Ecco, Gini recommends a variety of lesser-known brands that span a wide range of styles and prices:
- Aravon by New Balance. Gini notes that these come in a variety of widths and are a great shoe in the mid-price range. “They have lots of styles, including some great walking shoes,” she adds.
- Taos. The brand makes plenty of styles, but she recommends this brand, as well as La Plume and Comfort Club, for their sandals.
- Munro. Widely available at a variety of department stores, she advocates these because they come in several widths.
- Naot. This brand out of Israel features engineered insoles and sturdy arch supports.
- Thierry Rabotin. Made in Italy and the highest price point on her recommended list, these are her personal favorite. “If they are comfortable, they are worth the money,” says Gini, adding that they have lots of styles, including low heels and walking shoes.
If you’re trying on shoes at the local store and these brands aren’t available, Brian has a few tips to consider when selecting shoes:
- Look for a shoe with a solid heel counter (the insert used to reinforce the heel cup of a shoe and to increase support). Squeeze the heel region; if you can make the sides of the heel area touch, this is not a good counter.
- Check the natural flex point of the shoe. Put the shoe on end and push down to see where the shoe bends. It should not bend in the arch area, but it should have a natural bend at the ball of the foot.
- Look for a shoe with a removable insole. Some insoles are simply a layer of cheap foam, while others are contoured to fit the natural anatomy of the foot. If the person wears an orthotic (a prescription insole to better meet the person’s individual needs) the factory insole can be removed and the custom insole or orthotic can be placed into the shoe.
Gini advises that you should think about how your shoes will affect your health when considering your next footwear purchase. “Shoes are the most important item in your wardrobe,” she says. “When your feet hurt, everything else suffers.”
Virginia Davis, PT, MA, is a physical therapist and owner at Crescent City Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member in New Orleans, Louisiana. A foot/ankle specialist with more than 35 years of experience, she is also a board member of PTPN, the nation’s premier network of rehabilitation therapists in independent practice, and the parent company of Physiquality.
Brian Hoke, PT, DPT, SCS, is the director and co-owner of Atlantic Physical Therapy in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Brian is a member of the Vasyli Medical Think Tank, a select group of medical professionals committed to educating clinicians in the role of biomechanics in injuries. Vasyli‘s U.S. distributor for PTs and other healthcare professionals is Patterson Medical, a vendor partner of Physiquality’s parent company, PTPN.
For further reading, look through our selection of articles on health and wellness, in addition to the below links:
Schneider-Levy, Barbara. Foot therapy. WWD Marketplace, January 14, 2013.
Jacobs, Deborah L. How to find comfortable shoes that don’t compromise style. Forbes.com, September 6, 2012.
Keep flip-flops from “going wild” this season. American Podiatric Medical Association, May 25, 2012.