Get footloose and fancy free with good sneaks

By Kira Scammell

On any given day in South Oakland, students hit the streets in boots, boat shoes and… On any given day in South Oakland, students hit the streets in boots, boat shoes and Birkenstocks. But getting to and from can wreak havoc on those little piggies, making walkers want to go “wah wah wah” all the way home.

Despite sometimes being short on cash, Pitt students might want to rethink skimping on supportive shoes. Feet bear the weight of the entire body, so problems with feet can radiate, causing knee, hip and back pain.

Regularly wandering the streets of Oakland in unsupportive shoes can cause bunions, hammertoes, calluses and most foot complications, said Dr. William Lenz, a podiatrist at the Waterfront Surgery Center.

“Your body tries to compensate for the pain in your foot by trying to adjust your posture to take the pain away from your foot, and when you do that, you can torque your hips and cause other problems. A lot of my patients complain about their knees,” Lenz said.

One of the common foot ailments, plantar fasciitis, creates a chain of pain. Caused by an inflammation of the tissue band stretching from the heel to the toes, symptoms include pain on the bottom of the foot, pain that increases while standing and pain that increases over time. According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, the most common cause of plantar fasciitis is standing on hard, flat surfaces in unsupportive shoes.

“An excessively high heel and a thin sole lead to problems. Style and function need to meet up in the middle,” Lenz said. He recommended wearing athletic shoes — specifically running shoes — since they offer the most support. But he added that putting supportive insoles in shoes also helps.

Not just any running shoe will do, though.

Fleet Feet Sports Pittsburgh, a specialty shoe store, encourages getting measured, knowing your gait, and finding out what level and type of support you need. See the “Shoe Fit” and “Walking” sidebars to get the jargon down.

“It prevents injury and reduces the risk of injury. The different types of stability are going to help with keeping the body injury-free,” said Megan McKinley, a fit professional at Fleet Feet.

There are three main types of running shoes: cushioning, stability and motion control. REI, the outdoor specialty store, has an expert advice section of its website that recommends different shoe types depending on a user’s stride or gait (see sidebar). REI recommends cushioning shoes for runners that mildly pronate or supinate, stability shoes for mild or moderate overpronators and motion control shoes for those who experience severe overpronation.

According to REI, arch shape is related to level of pronation. Pronators tend to have a low arch, overpronators tend to be flat-footed, and supinators tend to have high arches. Shoe last, or shape, also plays a role in finding the right fit. Semi-curved lasts are best for pronators, straight lasts are appropriate for overpronators, and curved lasts work best for supinators.

McKinley stresses the importance  of knowing how you walk and run so you can buy the proper shoe for your gait and foot. And get ready to buy regularly. Shoes only perform optimally for about 500 miles, even if they still look usable after that amount of use.

It is also important to consider terrain. City walkers and runners benefit most from road running shoes because they are designed for pavement and are light and flexible. Trail running shoes are better suited for off-road running. They have thicker outsoles and offer more stability and traction for running in places where there are rocks, holes and mud.

And even if you’re biking instead of walking, shoes count. Biking shoes are less difficult as far as trying to find the right fit. There are three main varieties of biking shoes according to the REI website — casual riding, mountain biking and road cycling.

Casual-riding shoes are for the occaisonal rider who travels five miles or less. These shoes are easy to walk in as well as cycle. Mountain-biking shoes offer a stiffer sole and have lots of traction for walking on trails. Road-cycling shoes have the stiffest soles and the least amount of cushioning; they aren’t suitable for walking long distances.

Not everyone lives his or her life in athletic shoes though, and many popular shoes do not offer much in the way of support. But there are ways to make fashionable footwear a better fit.

“Inserts help alleviate discomfort. You can even put them in Uggs,” McKinley said.

Insoles help to alleviate some of the discomfort that normal shoes can impose. Aside from insoles, wearing the right socks can also improve comfort and fit. Fleet Feet recommends a non-cotton sock that will wick away moisture to keep feet comfy, dry and odorless. Sweaty socks tend to slip down into shoes and leave the heels exposed, which can lead to blisters.

Finally, when you’re buying shoes, go in the mid- to late-afternoon, since this is when feet are most swollen. This ensures the purchase of a properly fitting shoe. And if you’re planning on using an insole, consider going a size up.

It is not hard to see why it is important to take care of our feet — it’s just plain good for the sole.

Stride and Gait:

Pronation: The inward rolling motion that occurs after the heel strikes the ground — a healthy and normal motion that helps to absorb impact and relieve pressure that is put on the joints.

Overpronation: Exactly what it sounds like — the foot rolls inward an exaggerated amount. This type of stride can lead to joint pain.

Supination (sometimes called underpronation): The outward rolling motion that results in a higher impact once the heel strikes the ground.

Parts of the Shoe:

Upper: the upper part of the shoe above the sole

Outsole: the rubber part of the shoe that hits the pavement

Midsole: the layer between the upper and outsole that provides cushioning and support

Last: the shape and mold which a shoe is constructed around

Heel Counter: the rigid structure around the heel that provides motion control, support and cushioning

Medial Post: structures located on the side of the shoe that inhibit excess inward or outward motion

Foot Problems:

Plantar Fasciitis: a swelling of the tissue band going from toe to heel

Bunion: when the big toe turns toward the other toes causing a bump on the inside of the foot

Callous: parts of the skin that have hardened due to friction

Hammer Toe: when the toe is distorted and turned downward