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In Defense of Feet

January 15, 2010
by Liz Colville
The foot is so overused, it’s underrated. But the body part that takes a lot of the punishment from walking, running and standing deserves our attention and care. Let's really get to know our feet, and learn some of the ways that we can be kinder to them.

The Foot as Shoe Mannequin

We spend a collective $6 billion a year or more on treating our nails, which includes pampering foot treatments like pedicures. But we aren’t so quick to put feet first when it comes to purchasing shoes that conform to the latest trend or the office dress code. The American Podiatric Medical Association is trying to teach us the error of our ways, and to consider comfort before fashion. The organization offers online tips about selecting footwear and additional information about foot health.

For decades, thanks to designers like Vivienne Westwood, high-heeled shoes keep towering far above normal expectations (and your safety zone). What makes your feet look good is generally bad for your ankles, legs, behind and back. But women continue to wear stilettos and platforms in the name of fashion and stature. Just what is the damage? In “Breaking the High Heel Habit,” Jennifer Russo explains that that high-heel wearers are walking straight into a world of health problems.

If you must continue wearing uncomfortable works of art, consult eHow’s guide, “How to Walk Properly and Gracefully in High Heel Shoes,” or take a look at some of the brands listed at the end of this article, many of which specialize in sneaker-like comfort combined with stiletto-like class.

As it turns out, flatter isn’t necessarily better. Flat shoes, especially shoes so flat that they don’t provide any arch support, can be just as bad for feet as high heels; they can strain the Achilles tendon, the arch, the heel even the calf muscles. The pain of wearing flats might not be immediately noticeable, but it can lead to conditions like plantar fasciitis, a painful heel injury.

Science is Afoot for Feet

Taking care of one’s feet doesn’t necessarily require a trip to the doctor. In recent years, the running industry has realized that if you want to pound on your feet in rapid succession thousands of times a day, you need a shoe that can stand up to the punishment. Small running stores like Fleet Feet take a personal approach, examining a customer’s feet, gait and running routine to help him or her select just the right shoe.

Evolutionary Stumbles

After all this, it’s easy to see why many contend that shoes are the root of all foot trouble. A recent article in New York Magazine article, “You Walk Wrong,” explores some of the extensive research on feet—across ethnicities, sports, shoe styles, and more—and suggests that this may indeed be the case. Apparently, walking barefoot is the healthiest way to go … unless, of course, your stroll is on a dirty city street.

Barefoot Pampering

Now that you’ve concluded that bare feet are best, it’s time for you to show them some love. Brands like Origins, Bath & Body Works and the Body Shop offer many foot products that contain natural, great-smelling ingredients. Conair has a whole line of foot spas, which not only feel good on tired walkers’ feet, but can alleviate the effects of arthritis, too. If you’re pregnant or have a condition that increases foot swelling, suggest that your significant other read WikiHow’s “How to Give a Foot Massage.”

The Wall Street Journal navigates the market of at-home pedicure treatments with “How to Skip the Salon,” which reviews several kits that range in price from $19.99 to $119.95.

Walking Away in Comfort

If you simply must wear shoes, here are some of the best comfort-and-style shoe brands on the market today.

Naot is an Israel-based shoemaker that specializes in flexible, reliable shoes and sandals. Aerosoles of Edison, New Jersey, aims to deliver “high quality, comfortable and fashion-right shoes at affordable prices.” The Danish company Ecco is an believes that “the foot should lead the shoe,” catering to walkers, hikers, high-flying executives and everyone in between. The French company Mephisto uses “soft air technology” in its shoes and its patented sole absorbs shock and is designed to relieve joints and the back. Keen is a sought-after maker of sandals suitable for both everyday and more strenuous activities.

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