Our Feet are made for Walking.
Oh I wish I’d looked after my feet.
The average person walks 100,000 miles in a lifetime - about five times around the world. And because our feet are so small in comparison with the rest of our body, we exert massive force on them when we walk. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that so many of us complain of foot pain.
However, most of that pain is avoidable – either by early diagnosis of a problem (flat footed; prone to bunions) or simply by making sure we wear well-fitting shoes.
The seeds of later agonies - lumps, bumps, blisters, bad toenails, foot-related pain - are often sown when we are young. As delicate bones are developing and hardening right up to the age of 18, serious damage and deformation can be caused early on by wearing ill-fitting, badly made shoes.
That’s why it is so important to take our kids for regular, professional shoe-fitting. We get their teeth checked every six months. Why not their feet?
Next week marks the start of National Shoe Fitting week, it’s the perfect time to sort out those shoddy shoe-buying habits. Organised by the National Society of Shoe Fitters – who also train and certify retailers to fit shoes properly – participating shops will measure your child and offer advice on foot fitness. Many are also offering consultations with podiatrists who can help you find the perfect shoe for your child.
PLAE has paid particular attention to the requirements of a growing foot and knows what abnormal pressure can do to a developing foot. That’s why their shoes include a wide toe box to allow feet to wiggle; the soles are super flexible and all materials allow the foot to breathe. Equally important are the fastenings which are secure but adjustable, to stop feet slipping.
Other sorts of shoes are known to cause all manner of miseries. Ballerina pumps can cause plantar fasciitis (extreme sole pain, familiar to athletes and ballerinas alike), sloppy boots can lead to bad gait (storing up a lifetime of hip, knee, back and neck trouble) and, tightly fitted heels can aggravate bunions and cause hammer toes.
The irony is that these days we are appalled by footbinding – the culture in China which inflicted agonies on tiny, developing feet. Until 1911, when the practice was banned, girls from the age of four would have their toes bent backwards, broken and pressed downwards, squeezed into a four-inch sole and tightly bound to create the ideal lotus foot.
Feet were horribly deformed and such was the pain, women literally couldn’t bear to leave home. It was as painful to reverse the damage as it had been to cause it.
Yet we are perfectly happy to let fashion inflict a similar torture on our 21st century feet as we squeeze them in to shoes which often take an inch off our shoe-size. Indeed, many shoes you see on the catwalk (we’re looking at you Alexander McQueen) mimic that lotus foot silhouette so admired in Qing Dynasty China. Some models have even been known to slice a centimetre or two off their hammer toe to fit into a haute shoe.
Small wonder, that women are more likely to develop bunions than men: more than 15 per cent of women in the UK (Posh Spice, famously) suffer from the deformity at the base of the big toe. The condition, hallux valgus, isn’t strictly caused by bad shoes – there can be a genetic predisposition, which is why children often have them - but ill-fitting footwear accelerates the development, damage and pain of bunions.
Admittedly, there was a higher incidence of masculine bunions during the 50s and 60s, when winkle-picker shoes were at the height of fashion. But mainly it is women who are more than happy to jam their feet into pointed-toed, high-heeled shoes and damn the consequences.
Yet, our feet are so precious. They contain a quarter of the bones in our bodies – 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles. They mirror our general health – arthritis, diabetes, nerve and circulatory problems often first make themselves present in our feet. And they are the main reason so many of our elderly are housebound. We neglect them at our peril.
So instead of ignoring our extremities, we should be encouraging good habits from an early age. And since there is no standardisation of shoe-sizing in the UK, and foot-measuring gauges are all calibrated differently, we can’t assume that the size we are in one place, is the size we can buy in another. So we need to rely on expert help each time to make sure a shoe fits properly. Next week is the perfect time to start getting that help and to start properly looking after our children’s feet.
C.F.H.R. – Children’s Foot Health Register – www.fitkidsshoes.org
I.F.R.A. – Independent Footwear Retailers Association – www.shoeshop.org.uk
SOCPOD – Society of Chiropodists & Podiatrists – www.scpod.org
B.F.A. – British Footwear Association – www.britishfootwearassociation.co.uk
Healthy Footwear Guide – www.healthy-footwear-guide.com
SOMSR – Society of Master Shoe Repairers – www.somsr.com
The Lymphoedema Support Network – www.lymphoedema.org
Diabetes UK – www.diabetes.org.uk
The Institute of Chiropodists & Podiatrists – www.iocp.org.uk