Are supportive shoes good for your feet?
April 25, 2006 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Should I walk on good shoes that support my feet, or does that weaken them and should I learn to walk on canvas shoes instead?

I used to have problems with my ankles. I bought a pair of great hiking shoes 18 months ago, and have used them almost exclusively since. Ankle problems are gone, and they fit perfectly, but (partly because I had two footcorns) I now think it may not be such a good idea to wear such heavy shoes all day long. So, I want to buy a new pair of shoes. I consider buying a simpler, lighter, supportive walking shoe (such as this Salomon shoe), but I wonder if it is better for my feet to walk on shoes that are less supportive, such as canvas shoes.

I do not walk very long distances at the moment, but I have a toddler and groceries and no car, so I do want to be able to walk well. I mostly walk in the city, sometimes in the forest. At home I usually do not wear shoes.

I am mostly interested in general answers. I do not live in the US and I prefer non leather shoes (I am vegan).
posted by davar to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
My father wears MBT walking shoes and has given me great reports on these
posted by patphelan at 3:38 PM on April 25, 2006

Walking barefoot whenever you can is good for your feet, because it lets them stretch out and make contact with the floor in places where they're supposed to.

Wearing bad shoes is not good for your feet. I really don't think it's the equivalent of going barefoot -- your toes are jammed against each other, the top of the shoe is going to give you an upper limit for your arch that going barefoot does not, etc.

I would go with the more supportive shoes.

I should mention: I have no scientific data to back this up, it's just something I've been noticing a LOT lately as I work on my feet and strengthening my arches in yoga class. And I thought I had ankle problems too -- now I'm starting to suspect it's an issue with my outer arches, which are certainly not really supported by any of my cheaper shoes. And my corrected foot position is not playing nicely with many of my shoes, though it has solved a lot of the ankle issues.
posted by occhiblu at 3:39 PM on April 25, 2006

I suggest going to an independant shoe store where they actually know their shit.

My feet love me for having gone to a shoe store where they looked at my stride and my feet and made recommendations based on what they saw.
posted by I Love Tacos at 4:52 PM on April 25, 2006

Barefoot is better than bad shoes. Good shoes, which give your foot room to move naturally, are better than bad shoes. Badly fitting shoes can hurt not only your feet, but your ankles, knees, hips, back, and shoulders. Since you say you have a history of foot/ankle problems, go with a shoe that supports your foot. Don't go back to the type of shoe that you were wearing when you had ankle problems, unless you want the ankle problems to come back. You do not need hiking boots. A good pair (or two) of walking shoes should be just fine. I usually go barefoot at home (socks in the winter), and I have two pairs of shoes that I alternate wearing. (That way, if I get soaked to the skin one day, I have dry shoes to wear the next.)
posted by jlkr at 4:58 PM on April 25, 2006

Also wanted to add: When I was doing searches about foot and ankle pain in yoga, many reputable yoga sites (including Yoga Journal, in several articles) recommended orthotics. While they also say that yoga alone can eventually help or solve common foot problems, none of them claimed that orthotics would hurt, or that you should "tough it out" with unsupportive shoes in an attempt to strenghen the feet and ankles that way. (And again, all of them recommended going barefoot as much as possible.)
posted by occhiblu at 6:15 PM on April 25, 2006

I have a friend who works in an independent shoe store in Austin, TX, and she swears that MBTs are by far the best thing that you can buy for your feet (not so much for your sense of fashion, though). She also recommends Earth shoes or anything else with a negative heel. But, as everyone else has said, bad shoes can only cause more problems; good orthotic shoes, on the other hand, will not only help your feet but can do wonders for your back, too.
posted by stemlot at 6:31 PM on April 25, 2006

I can't answer your question, but I've tried a pair of VivoBarefoot shoes for the past year and it's been interesting if nothing else. They really are nice shoes (the ones I have are a tan leather no lace deal) and I've learned a lot about my walking habits. I don't wear them out on the town much anymore but still wear them at work or when I've got to run out to the store for a bit. I should clarify that I was never trying to learn how to run barefoot and just wanted a different experience. Oh and Snooty Hideout sells them for half the price of anyone else.
posted by furtive at 7:01 PM on April 25, 2006

Not to threadjack, but what about wearing flip-flops or other sandals? Is that comparable to going barefoot?
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:12 PM on April 25, 2006

If you have a history of foot problems, spending time barefoot can put you on the expressway to surgery and worse. Wear supportive shoes like it's your job.
posted by Ptrin at 11:05 PM on April 25, 2006

BuddhaInABucket: No. I love flip-flops, but they're not exactly great for your feet. Barefoot is good for helping promote proper alignment because the soles of your feet are having to deal with the traction and unevenness of the ground, which promotes greater sensitivity and balance. Flip-flops flatten out the ground your feet are hitting, and having to grip the top part of the shoe so it doesn't fall off your foot doesn't do your body any favors.
posted by occhiblu at 11:08 PM on April 25, 2006

And to address Ptrin's issue: The barefoot thing is really only great if you're also practicing proper foot alignment. If you have fallen arches, or your feet fall outward or inward, then you need to work on correcting that. Which can be done on your own without shoes, but it takes constant work. Properly supportive shoes or orthotics provide support without your having to think about it all day long.
posted by occhiblu at 11:11 PM on April 25, 2006

As a kid I was always twisting my ankle while playing in woods: step on something uneven, foot turns, hurts a bit for a day or so. I joined the Army Cadet Force when I was 13 and started wearing army boots: lots of ankle support. Suddenly I could run around in woods without doing my ankles in.

I've since worn army boots for many years, especially wintertime. I've noticed two things:

1 Going from boots to shoes just for normal walking is okay. No additional problems.

2 When I started jogging (in trainers) I got pains in my ankles and feet from them being used to being in boots all day, which meant (I'm guessing) that the muscles that would flex and straighten my feet relied on the boots being there. I persisted and sure enough the pains went away in a few weeks as my ankle muscles strengthened.

So, my entirely anecdotal experience: supportive footwear is great when you have problems (e.g. me in woods) but if you wear it all the time you might have problems when you try to wear something else or do new athletic activities.

I'm assuming here your ankle problems were as minor as mine: if you had anything more serious, of course, I'd agree with the other posters about seeking medical advice from a specialist.
posted by alasdair at 3:48 AM on April 26, 2006

Good shoes are worth every penny. Take care of your feet. And your knees.
posted by JamesMessick at 8:23 AM on April 26, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everybody! I always love it when AskMe is in total agreement. Supportive walking shoes it is, and I'll look into orthotics and MBT's.
posted by davar at 6:46 PM on April 26, 2006

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