Are supportive shoes necessary?
October 25, 2012 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Do I need to be wearing a supportive insole in my ballet flats? Are flat shoes destructive for your feet?

I have normal feet and have never had foot pain. I do, however, wear exclusively flat shoes with the exception of rainbow flip flops, which have a bit of a built in arch, since I'm 6' tall.

I've been stocking my wardrobe with ballet flats (like these) that have utterly flat soles with no contouring and very little cushioning in the sole. Will this harm my feet/posture/joints/scoliosis over time? I'm in my 20s, and I don't run, or do anything extremely high intensity it terms of work outs. The internet is full of all kinds of opinions from people selling their arch supporting insoles, healthy gurus, podiatrists, etc. What's the deal with orthotics?
posted by sunnychef88 to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
No expert, not even close, but I think that no support is better for your feet overall.
posted by nanook at 8:52 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find that wearing flats with no support on a daily basis is less comfortable, especially on long days where I'm on my feet a lot. I don't know if this indicates danger or future problems.

I still wear ballet flats, but I try to mix it up with other shoes and find flats with more comfortable/squooshy/supportive soles. For example right now I'm wearing a pair of moccasins which have a nice comfy pebble-bottomed sole and a padded insole.
posted by Sara C. at 8:52 AM on October 25, 2012

Flat shoes are not necessarily destructive for your feet; in fact there is a large school of thought (and even some evidence) that "no-drop" soft-soled shoes are very good for your feet (see the "minimalist" or "barefoot" shoe movement).

That said, I find that my feet get tired and my arches get sore if I wear a flat that a) constricts about the toes and/or b) does not have a strap to hold itself on. Like, I have a pair of these VivoBarefoot Kali shoes that are probably the most comfortable in my wardrobe; I've walked up to five or six miles in them at a go, and beyond some calf tiredness I was fine. But if I do the same thing in RocketDog flats (my go-to work shoe) my feet and legs feel tired and hurty.

I think this is a case of "your feet may vary." If no arch support is comfortable for you, don't worry about it!
posted by mskyle at 8:56 AM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ever since I switched to Vibram 5 Fingers, my feet have been in way way better shape. And then I read "Born To Run", which reinforced my feeling that most of what we 'know" about shoes and foot function is hoohey.

I think the emphasis on arch support weakens feet, and that most of the advertising about cushy arch support is meant to sell shoes, not lead to the long-term health of your feet.
posted by straw at 8:57 AM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

I am not an expert, but as someone who works on her feet, I had to stop buying cheap ballet flats who think a piece of plasticy "leather" glued to the sole is an insole and move to flats with cushioning and contouring. It made a huuuuge difference; I used to be limping when I got off my bike at home on Fridays; now it might as well be a Monday.

I really like Naturalizer. They make a billion hideous shoes, and those are the ones you'll find on sale/clearance, generally; but if you're willing to pay the $70 or so for a full priced pair, there's tons of cute options that hold up and last very well.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:58 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

There is very little agreement about orthotics, even among people who study them. If you have a problem, they might increase your comfort, but orthotic selection sounds purely subjective — not scientific. If you aren't having any issues, I would say you are just fine. In fact, I prefer flatter shoes because they allow my arches to flex and stay strong.
posted by stopgap at 8:59 AM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think there's a big difference between flat shoes with little cushioning and completely flat shoes with zero cushioning. I find that if I'm walking in shoes that don't have any padding, my knees are sore at the end of the day, as I'm walking on concrete with nothing to cushion the shock. I'm under the impression that this could cause long-term damage as well.

However, I've been told by people who have orthotics that it isn't necessary to get orthotics unless there is some specific issue - joint pain, high arches, etc. I think that as long as your shoes have some padding (as the shoes in your link do), and you're not experiencing any problems, you should be fine (although I'm not a doctor and there could be some long-term concerns of which I'm not aware).
posted by ersatzhuman at 9:08 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm also a big fan of the VivoBarefoot shoes, my legs were a little sore for a week or two after i started wearing them, but in a good way if that makes sense--that hard to describe soreness that is from a workout rather than an irritation. I couldn't handle the feel when i tried on the vibram 5 fingers.

now i switch off between 2 pairs of vivo and my other boots and shoes for variety and utility (don't like them on my bike), but they are my favorite comfy casual every day shoes, like Ever.
posted by th3ph17 at 9:21 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd just watch for knee, hip or lower back pain as well as foot issues. I love flats but find that once they are worn in they feel really comfy on my feet but mess with my hips/back. Usually my pain comes not from lack of arch but from sinking down in the heel. Putting my heel lower than the rest of my foot ends up hurting! Once in a while I will have tired feet so I just wear my sneakers/running shoes for a day or two.

Flats are not bad as long as they are working for you!
posted by Swisstine at 9:21 AM on October 25, 2012

FWIW up until I was ~ 25 I could wear pretty much any shoe without discomfort. Cheap-o flats with no padding, super thin flip flops, etc. This continued as I waitressed from age 22-25 and I would wear cheap, unsupportive shoes to work maybe 50% of the time and something substantial the other 50% (danskos or sneakers). Now I am 26 and it's catching up to me. I can pretty much only wear danskos or sneakers for long periods of time or my feet, legs and back kill me. I don't know if this is due to a few years of wearing unsupportive shoes or just my body getting a little older. I'd be cautious about those shoes.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:26 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have plantar fasciitis so wearing shoes with no arch support or heel cup would cripple me, but there are a ton of folks who swear by the whole minimalist shoe thing and they seem to be fine. I think that if you have no pre-existing foot problems, your feet don't hurt at all, and you don't have any ankle/knee/hip/back pain, you should be okay. If you start to have pain though, you should probably rethink the whole ballet flat thing.
posted by crankylex at 9:39 AM on October 25, 2012

I have a pair of custom orthotics which I put in most of my ballet flats. I got them made about 10 years ago, and they're great. But the Dr. Scholls ones work fine, too. Just more comfortable, but I have a high arch.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:47 AM on October 25, 2012

If you want ballet flats with a smidge of padding, check out the Me Too brand.

I also wear barefoot shoes a lot (I'm partial to the Merrell Barefoot sneakers that do not have the toe separation thing - they just look like regular sneakers), and I find that they hurt my feet the least. I've had some bad leg injuries & sprained ankles in the past, and for me barefoot works better than a shoe that's really built up.

That said, barefoot sneakers have no padding but are super flexible. Ballet flats with no padding are often a little stiffer, which might cause you some issues. I'm not an orthopedist, though, so YMMV.
posted by lyra4 at 10:02 AM on October 25, 2012

I can't pound the pavement in flimsy flats, so I get cushy ones from DSW. I also find that my feet start to hurt a lot sooner when 1) I have to keep gripping with my toes to prevent the shoe from sliding off my feet and 2) I don't wear socks or tights, because I blister so badly.

I don't wear orthotics that insert in my shoes, but I do buy shoes with some padding in the soles, and I slip these "heel guards" from Dr. Scholl's into the back of my shoes - they are cushioned gel stick-ons that are good for those like me who have duck feet, wide at the toes and narrow at the heels. The cushioned gel also helps prevent heel-rub.

I've actually found removable plastic orthotics to be a huge PITA as they slide around and fall out and the plastic is hard and ouchy. I got a pair over-the-counter just to see if they made a difference and they made my shoes more uncomfortable.

So unless you have been to a podiatrist or other actual medical professional who says you need orthotics (and isn't just saying so to sell orthotics!) then IME cushioned flats are fine.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:11 AM on October 25, 2012

I don't think there is a universal truth about this-- I think it's all about personal preference, which may change with age or health or scenario. It may even vary from shoe to shoe!

If you're curious you could always buy some insoles to add to your favorite shoes and see how your feet feel after a few weeks. I did this recently when I bought some washable cotton insoles to add to my flats (mostly for stink prevention purposes), and I was shocked to find how much more comfortable they suddenly became. Yet, I wear flip flops or walk around barefoot as much as possible, so I definitely am not someone who always needs bigtime arch support.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:41 AM on October 25, 2012

I can't say what will end up happening if you continue wearing ballet flats with little support. But I can share my experience, in case it's useful.

I'm a woman in my late twenties. I wore all kinds of shoes and never had much of a problem before I started using a standing desk almost a year ago now. Then I quickly learned that even my favorite cushy black Reef Phantoms wouldn't cut it for me on thin carpet over concrete at work, nor would wearing thin or no shoes with a cushy floor mat. I have to have ankle support, or my ankles swell by day's end, and I have to have heel support, or I start to wake up with plantar fasciitis. So that's changed things a bit.

My go-to standing-desk shoes are now mostly a colorful selection of athletic shoes, including brown Adidas Rod Lavers, black-and-orange Adidas Gazelles, green Keen Whispers, sky blue–and–black Nike Air Force 1s, and black Puma Amoko IIs. But I also recently got a pair of black Cobb Hill Penelopes, which are Mary Janes from New Balance's sleek new office line, and they look like they might suit your style.
posted by limeonaire at 5:09 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My dad is a certified orthotist, and I have a pair of custom orthotics, but I don't wear them in ballet flats.

Foot orthotics are medical devices, just like knee orthotics, back orthotics, etc. My dad could also make you a helmet to shape your skull, but you don't need that either, do you?

If you start getting foot/leg/back pain, then worry about what you should be putting in your shoes.
posted by that's how you get ants at 6:25 PM on October 25, 2012

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