Seven shoe mistakes that harm your health

In your lifetime you will walk approximately 160,000 kilometres so why not do it with the right shoes on? Shoes play an important part in foot health and foot-related problems can affect your general health, Eve talks to experts about how your shoes could be making you ill:

After putting up with back pain for over three years Samantha had had enough.

“I had ignored it — thinking it would go away,” she says. Samantha’s mother had calmed her down, initially telling her the pain was normal post-pregnancy.

“Mom, I believe, has a lot of experience with child birth. So when she told me that she had experienced similar discomfort after the birth of her children, I didn’t doubt her,” Samantha says.

The pain did not dissipate though. A month went by. Then a year. Now the mother of two was facing three years with back pain.

“I decided to visit a family physician,” she says. On seeing the shoes she was wearing, and upon explaining her problem, the doctor explained that the shoes could have something to do with it.

Following through with medical protocol, the physician referred Samantha for further tests to ascertain if the problem could be as a result of multiple instigators or something else entirely.
“The tests showed nothing really. She advised me to go off high heels for a month and report back to her if anything changed.”

Indeed, a month later, Samantha reported back with corroborative findings. “I was feeling much better. The discomfort had whittled down to negligible levels,” she says.

Shoes are an important part of a woman’s health, according to wellness expert Dr Njoki Fernandez. This is because — more often than not — shoes for women are not just about support and protection for feet. They also serves as a fashion statement.

The following are shoe and feet mistakes that women commit that puts them in trouble.

1.Life on high heels

Talk to any woman, a fan of high heels, they will tell you how it brings out their best. Heels make a fashion statement. Connie Aluoch, a stylist and fashion expert, confirms that indeed, a woman on flat shoes does not have the same appeal as a woman on six inches of heels. “They elevate you and give you poise,” she says. “An elevated posture gives you confidence.”

Heels, some women will say, give their backs the magic obtuse curvature that turns many a man’s head. Be that as it may be, it would be a mistake to make high heels a default daily indulgence.

Dr Sally Kariuki, a podiatrist and a chiropodist, says high heels compress the knees, put pressure on the ankles and place the centre of gravity forward, thereby causing pain on the lower back.

“Heels higher than 1.5 inches (about 4cms) are likely to have these kinds of effects,” she says. These effects, she adds, take a long time to develop. As a result, Dr Sally advises that women should only wear heels for short periods of time (like for an occasion) and not daily.

2. High BMI and heels

It is one thing to wear heels often and it is entirely another to wear heels while overweight or obese.

“If you are heavier than you should be, it would mean you are placing a lot of pressure on your bones and joints,” Dr Sally says.

The slimmer the person, the better suited they are to indulge in high heels, Dr Sally says. If one is overweight, she advises, it would be prudent to just keep off high heels.

“For a bigger-bodied person the damage on the bones and the joints is greater. It also poses greater risks,” she says.

The effects of wearing heels while obese are similar with average sized women only that one is likelier to cause damage, which is likely to be of severe magnitude.

3.Flat shoes are also not good

Flat shoes, says Mary Kung’u, a physiotherapist at Chiropractic and Physiotherapy Health Centre, is just as bad as high heels if not worse.

“The shape of the foot has an arch on the inner side that lies between the heel and the toe,” she explains. “That arch needs to be supported by the shoes we wear.”

Flat shoes, like loafers, often lack support for the arch of the foot.

“When the arch is not supported over a long period of time, it eventually collapses and causes uneven distribution of weight; which then causes pain on the knees, the hips and the back,” she says.

Mary says many physiotherapy patients with a history of wearing loafers present with heel spurs — a terrible painful condition caused from long term wearing of flat shoes without arch support.

4. Too tight and too loose

Shoes should also not be too tight, Dr Sally says. This mostly applies to closed shoes. Whether one is wearing shoes for sports, or for a casual look, it is fundamental that they ensure that the shoes are fit well and not tight.

“Tight shoes are likely to block blood flow, which can then result in cardiac problems,” Dr Sally says.

The problem is even worse if the wearer of the shoes has a pre-existing condition like diabetes, kidney failure or high blood pressure.

“People actually die from wearing tight shoes if and when they are already patients of such diseases,” she explains. The best shoes, she says, should fit just right. It should not be oversize because then one will struggle keeping them on.

5. Reused, damp shoes

Are you fond of sliding into the same pair of shoes day in day out? You should stop — especially with closed shoes. This is because human feet sweat. Sweat makes shoes damp. Bacteria and fungi thrive in damp places.

Dr Eliud Monda, a consultant dermatologist, points out that damp shoes that are used every day without proper cleaning are likely to cause infections.

“A famous foot infection is athlete’s foot: a fungal infection characterised by scaly and itchy feet,” Dr Monda says. Despite its name, athlete’s foot affects athletes and non-athletes. Cleaning used shoes and changing into a clean and dry pair is one way of curtailing athlete’s foot.

6.Maintain short toe nails

Long toe nails can make it difficult for shoes to fit. “They add extra length,” Dr Sally says.

The pressure caused by shoes against long nails is painful and may also cause ingrown nails, Dr sally adds.

“The best measure to take is trimming the nails. Trimmed nails are also cautioned from trauma in case of impact,” she explains.

7.  Avoid sharp pointed shoes

Sharp pointed shoes, Kung’u says, force the foot to angle acutely.

“The danger with that is that the foot is forced to take a shape that is not natural. The forepart of the foot is squeezed to fit in a small space — causing a bunion (inward angling of the big toe)” The bunion often presents with a hardened outward look at the joint of the big toe. “This occurs over repeated use of sharp pointed shoes,” she says.

Once a bunion occurs, pain which is often excruciating, sets in. “Sometimes physiotherapy can help rehabilitate such a foot. However, if the bunion does not respond to physiotherapy, surgery is usually necessary to revert the damage,” Kung’u points out.

8. The right shoe for the right occasion

Imagine arriving at a cocktail party with gumboots. It would be an unforgivable fashion faux pas.

Beyond fashion though, Dr Fernandes says, it is critical that women grab the right shoes for the right occasion or job. Can you imagine jogging on stilettos?

“Shoes primarily protect our feet and give the body proper support and a good centre of gravity. Fashion should come second,” she says.

For instance, if you are gardening, or working on a farm, gumboots are your best bet. If you are in the gym you would require comfortable and light sports shoes. And when you are at home relaxing, a nice pair of sandals would do.

During the cold season you can look for boots or closed shoes. In hot weather, open shoes would give your feet the space to breath. And when you are going into a meeting heels would do.

However, Dr Fernandes adds, heels should only be worn for brief periods of time.

She explains: “Always wear comfortable shoes that support the arch of your foot. Carry heels for changing when you are going into the meeting. When the meeting ends go back to comfortable shoes.”

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