Feet things first

July 18, 1997

By Teri Johnson

Staff Writer

Athletic shoes that don't fit properly can get your exercise program off on the wrong foot.

Some people prefer fashion over function, and they care most about a shoe's appearance, says Jim Roberts, manager of Foot Locker at Valley Mall in Hagerstown.

"A lot of kids don't want their feet to look big; they need a size 12, but they buy a 10," he says.

Many aren't concerned until their first doctor's appointment for foot problems, he says.

The wrong type of shoes or shoes that don't fit can cause a number of injuries, says Pat Fineagan, biomechanics specialist at The Rehab Center at Robinwood in Hagerstown.


These include black toe, a black toenail or bruise caused by a shoe's toe box being too short or not deep enough; plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissue on the bottom of the foot; and Achilles tendinitis, which occurs when the back of the shoe doesn't fit properly, Fineagan says. Other ailments are ankle sprains, knee pain, shinsplints and stress fractures.

"If your feet hurt, you hurt everywhere," Fineagan says.

Good athletic shoes have a wide toe box, a supportive heel counter and some shock absorption in the sole, Fineagan says. Each brand and style has different features, and there is no one shoe that is right for everyone, she says.

Even if you've worn the same brand for the past 10 years, don't just grab a replacement pair at the store.

Ask a salesperson to measure your foot to learn your proper size, Roberts says. Describe any foot problems you have, such as corns, bunions or calluses, and also consider your foot type.

Match shoe, activity

Manufacturers market shoes for specific sports, and you should match your shoe to your activity, Fineagan says.

"Don't look at the glitzy ads in magazines; go to the library and look up the research," she says.

According to Walking Magazine, more than 36 million Americans walk for fitness, and the activity is the No. 1 way to exercise. Walkers logged more than 6 billion miles and spent more than $1 billion on walking shoes last year, the magazine reported in its annual shoe buying guide in April.

Walking shoes are low-heeled and offer flexibility in the forefoot.

Running shoes have most of their shock absorption in the heel, which is higher than the toe.

Tennis shoes have flat soles and are made for lateral motion, while basketball shoes are designed to handle forward motion and jumping. Aerobic shoes have shock absorption in the forefoot and stability in the heel.

Fineagan says she doesn't recommend wearing cross-trainers, as there is no one shoe that will serve the feet adequately for every sport.

Shoe width, size, comfort and materials vary among manufacturers, so try on three or four different brands of shoes in the same price range.

Shop for shoes in the afternoon, because feet tend to swell during the day, and wear the same thickness of socks that you will use with the shoes.

Get off the carpeting and test the shoes on a hard surface, Fineagan says.

"Pace back and forth, and do a little sprint if you will be running," she says.

Serious walkers or runners probably won't find all the properties they want in a shoe that costs less than $60, Fineagan says.

When you find the perfect shoes, don't be tempted to wear them too long or too often.

Avoid wearing the same shoes every day to let them dry out. The average person perspires 1/2 pint daily in each foot, Roberts says.

Fineagan recommends that walking and running shoes be replaced after 400 miles. At that point the shock absorption is gone and the sole has compressed, she says.

Shoes used for athletics shouldn't be worn for working, shopping or walking around the house, Fineagan says.

"Put the shoes on when you begin the activity, and take them off when you finish," she says.

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