When shopping for shoes or sandals, keeping your feet safe and supported may not feel fun or glamorous. But having footwear that supports your body properly not only protects your feet, it can also help avoid problems with your ankles, knees, hips and spine in the long term.
“Our feet are our body’s foundation,” says Dr. Michal Kozanek, an orthopedic foot and ankle specialist and surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “They support our entire body and contribute to our balance, posture, alignment of our spine and general well-being.”
Your foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons, which underscores why wearing good shoes is so important, Dr. Kozanek says.
Transitioning from Cold to Warm
As we move from cold weather into the warmth of summer, many of us are itching to leave behind the heavy shoes and boots we’ve needed to keep our feet warm and safe. Now, we look forward to wearing more fashionable footwear and letting our toes wiggle in sand or soft grass. There’s a sense of freedom that comes with exposing our feet to the air.
Dr. Kozanek says it’s fine to enjoy that freedom, with a few caveats for safety.
“Sandals that offer some support for the arch and ankle are the best choice,” he says. “I recommend wearing a sandal that has a strap around the back of the foot to avoid having to grip your toes to keep the sandal on. Gripping your toes for long periods of time can lead to tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and hammertoes, which can become serious problems.”
For that same reason, he’s not a big fan of flip-flops.
“I’d say flip-flops are appropriate for short-term beachwear, when showering at your local gym or lounging around at home when you’re not engaged in any physical activity,” he says. “They simply don’t provide the support needed for most activities.”
And, don’t forget sunscreen for the top of your feet when wearing any kind of sandal. The skin on the tops of your feet is tender, and sunburn on your feet can be a painful experience.
Footwear for Activities
For many, summertime also means participating in outdoor sports activities. Dr. Kozanek says it’s important to make sure your shoe supports the activity you’re engaging in.
“If you’re planning to walk or run outdoors, you might want to consider taking the time to get a professionally fitted walking or running shoe,” he says.
Shoe technology has made great advances in recent years, and having a good-fitting shoe will help you enjoy your activity more and prevent long-term injuries.
“If you’re going hiking, wear a boot that has good tread and supports your arch and ankle,” he says. “If you’re heading off on a boating adventure, including canoeing or kayaking, wear a water shoe that prevents you from slipping on wet surfaces and protects your toes and the bottom of your feet from underwater hazards. If you’re heading to the beach, flip-flops might be your footwear of choice, but that’s one of the few places they are appropriate.”
Exercise Caution with Bare Feet and Heels
Dr. Kozanek does not recommend walking barefoot for any length of time indoors or outdoors.
“Going barefoot offers no arch support,” he says. “Many people have flat feet, or their feet roll inward (pronation) or outward (supination). Going barefoot does nothing to prevent either of those rotations from happening, so having a house slipper that offers good arch support is important for almost everyone.”
Outdoors, going barefoot also opens us up to picking up a fungal, viral or bacterial infection.
Lastly, Dr. Kozanek recommends that people limit how often they wear high heels.
“It’s not natural for the human foot to be propped up or wedged into a tight shoe,” he says. “Wearing such high heels regularly for an extended period of time can definitely contribute to a variety of foot problems, including bunions, hammertoes and sprained ankles. I’d suggest wearing such shoes only for special occasions.”
Overall, Dr. Kozanek knows summer in Wisconsin is a great time for people to enjoy the outdoors, and he encourages everyone to get outside as much as possible.
“The important thing is just to make sure your footwear is appropriate for the activity you plan to engage in so that your foot — and the rest of your body — is properly supported,” he said. “Then, take your time easing into your outdoor activities and have a wonderful, safe summer.”