Foot problems often can be traced to how we fill--or overfill--our shoes


September 05, 1991|By Patricia McLaughlin | Patricia McLaughlin,Universal Press Syndicate

Philadelphia -- Corns. Calluses. Bunions. Blisters. Hammertoes. Fallen arches. Metatarsalgia. Athlete's foot. Nail fungus.

Feet have a tough time of it.

But the tragic part is how many of the things that go wrong with feet are caused by shoes.

A recent survey of 356 women sponsored by the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society found that 88 percent of them were wearing shoes smaller than their feet -- by, on average, 1.2 centimeters, or nearly half an inch.

Many of these women, as you might expect, had sore feet, or feet deformed by a lifetime of wearing small shoes but they kept wearing them anyway. It was the minority of women whose feet didn't hurt who wore bigger shoes -- shoes that were, on average, only about half a centimeter too small.

Why? Women buy shoes smaller than their feet to make their feet look smaller. "It's that Cinderella Syndrome," Dr. Mayde Lebensfeld says. "We all want small, delicate feet."

This is why the manufacturers of "comfort shoes," even while they keep trying to persuade women to wear shoes that fit right and feel good, also keep trying to make shoes that look less clunky.

Recently, Dr. Lebensfeld, a New York podiatrist who serves on the Rockport Co.'s Podiatric Advisory Board, spent the day at a department store, giving shoppers advice on how to buy shoes. She showed off a cutaway sample of Rockport's new pump, showing how the heel was hollowed out and filled in with a plug of Technolite, "the foam used in football players' kneepads," and noted that the biomechanics lab at the University of Massachusetts had found that the plug absorbed "38 percent of the shock at heel strike."

She cautioned that heels should never be higher than 2 inches, and should have firm heel counters "so your ankle doesn't wobble." Shepointed to the shoe's steel shank, which "gives the shoe stability." She pointed to the three layers of foam padding in the insole, with "extra foam across the ball of the foot" because "literally you're walking on these bones."

She urged shoppers to have their feet measured every time they buy shoes because even middle-aged feet can "grow" as the ligaments that connect their bones loosen up.

All the while, the knot of shoppers gathered around her kept shooting dubious looks at her feet, neatly shod in black patent leather pumps that didn't look clunky enough to be comfortable.

"Those aren't Rockports," somebody said finally.

"Oh, yes, they are," she said.

It appears that the gap between looks and comfort is, at least, narrowing.

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