Summer Shoe Woes
Summer Shoe Woes
It’s that time of year again, when summer is just around the corner, and the summer shoe box is being pulled out. For women especially, there is an entire additional layer of summer shoe woes, the battle between comfort, freedom and style.
Who doesn’t know the glorious feeling of sliding your feet into a sandal and off you go! Sadly, that same feeling of freedom is often associated with a dim memory of aching August summer feet.
In particular we all know that flimsy flip flops are bad for our feet, and many of us suspect the vast array of summer sandals are not the best option for our feet at all, and yet there are still some sandals that are better than others.
In our very young years, we seem to be able to get away with wearing thin flimsy thong sandals, but it does start to catch up with us as early as our 20’s. I frequently see young women in mid to late summer in the office with vague and diffuse foot aches and pains who have been walking around in flimsy flats or sandals all summer, and are suddenly wondering why their feet are so achy! I seem to see just as many mature women with the same problems!
The difficulty with open sandals is that there is usually no ability to use a custom or over the counter orthotic safely, and so the control and support rely entirely on the shoe itself. This makes choosing the right shoe/sandal even more important.
So, what does make for a good supportive sandal? In basic terms, a thick supportive sole, and a back to hold your foot in place. A thicker overall sole is best, and one that thickens beneath the heel is preferable to one that is totally flat, as it gives you a little additional lift and support underneath the heel. Small heels are okay, and wedges are better than heels generally. Wedges provide a connection between the back of your foot (rearfoot) and front of your foot (forefoot) that generally provide more support. They can easily be dressed up or down, and also are generally sturdier than a heel.
A universal tenant of supportive shoes is to keep the foot as neutral as possible, not pronated (rolling inward), and not supinated (rolling outward) too much. It is normal to pronate throughout the gait cycle, but it is often overpronation that causes problems and pain when you have a flatter foot structure, such as heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, and even stress fractures. An arch support helps to keep you from overpronating.
If you are more comfortable with a heel, a little height is acceptable to add into your summer line-up. In fact, it’s healthier to alter your shoe height and style from day to day to avoid the natural imperfections in any shoe.
It’s also smart to look for thicker and abundant straps with your sandal. The more straps the better, because they will hold you in more firmly, and a shoe that has a back or an ankle strap is ideal. In a slide or flip flop, your toes are constantly gripping in order to keep the shoe from sliding off your foot. This affects the tiny intrinsic muscles in your feet, predisposing you to and effectively worsening your genetic hammertoes, bunions and neuromas with time.
I am constantly asked what brand of sandals to wear, and although specific brand recommendations are not a universal one-size-fits-all, there are a few brands that tend to support most feet well. My personal favorite casual sandal is the Chaco® Mega Z Cloud. The thick straps, firm supportive footbed and back adjustable strap enclosure feel great for me. Also as mentioned, a good sandal has a back, and an example of this is the Sorel® Ella sandal, which has a full stretchy ankle strap to lock in the foot and is a little dressier.
If you must have a backless sandal, some are better than others. The farther back the top strap is, (closer to your ankle) the less gripping the front and mid-section of your foot has to do. The Birkenstock® Mayari, for example, has a strap farther back. Other great shoe brands: Vionic® and Teva®. All these brands have backless and strapped back options.
If you’ve come all this way and still can’t bear the thought of summer without flip-flops, just be sure to get a thick supportive sole with a back and stick to using the flimsy type for the pool or beach. Just make sure you don’t find yourself 5 miles away on what started as a leisurely beach walk, in that same flimsy pair! And always remember the old adage, ‘if the shoe fits wear it, and if it doesn’t, call your foot and ankle doctor’ !
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