Are Your Favourite Shoes Bad For Your Health? Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from biomechanics expert Christophe Champs, founder of PODO Clinic. Christophe will share whether your old shoes might be damaging your health. It is almost certain that your senior (probably favourite) pair of shoes is impacting your health, but is it negative or positive, and if negative, just how bad is it?
Are Your Favourite Shoes Bad For Your Health?
Perhaps the biggest question for therapists working with feet, posture and biomechanics is, what are my clients’ old shoes doing to their feet and, consequently, their bodies?
On the flip side, many of my clients ask me how often shoes should be replaced. To answer that question, I need to establish how often they like to change them. Because this is important when I am recommending future behaviour around shoe purchasing. I have two main types of clients when it comes to buying new shoes: the “shoppers” and the “buyers/investors”.
If you suspect your old shoes may impact your physical health, let’s see which category you fall into.
What Type Of Customer Are You?
The SHOPPERS (Including Shoe Collectors And Fast Fashion Followers)
Shoppers are the ones who like to change their shoes often, they opt for style over support, and they tend to choose cheaper shoes.
Despite all the negative considerations surrounding fast fashion, when it comes to shoe buying, it can be a good concept – if it means you change your shoes regularly.
The only problem is that we try not to spend too much money on a product we know will have a short lifespan, and manufacturers know it! So, they adapt their production costs accordingly, dragging down the quality of your footwear, which is the first point of support for your whole body. Light, soft and minimalistic shoes are the cheapest to produce and buy. But, with the reduction in support for your feet, the risk of damage to your body increases.
It’s a slightly different story with shoe collectors, as they alternate the shoes they wear, meaning they wear each pair less and give the cushions within the shoes some rest.
Think about a runner who runs every day. They should never run two days in a row with the same pair. This is because the foam used in the soles needs up to 48 hours to get back in shape – and that’s because running on them applies pressure to the soles of up to three times your body weight. That is why many brands tend to add some encapsulated air (Nike), gel (Asics) or other technologies to speed up the shoes’ back into shape and provide adequate support.
The same applies to non-runners. The risk you take running or walking in an out-of-shape pair of shoes is that those shoes mislead your foot, put your posture out of alignment and your gait out of balance. All this, in turn, can damage your body.
The BUYERS And The INVESTORS
These people buy fewer shoes, pay more per pair, and keep them longer. Men are probably the ‘best’ at this, but it’s not exclusive to them.
Most of us have little interest in fashion, particularly as we age, tending to buy several identical (or very similar looking) pairs, perhaps changing the colour to avoid being tagged as ‘boring’.
In addition, these buyers try to look smarter by investing in a pair of shoes with either an excellent reputation, such as RM Williams’ Chelsea boots, or a top-notch make, such as the Goodyear method, which can be resolved entirely without altering the shape of the upper of the shoe.
Then these shoes are either saved for special occasions or worn all the time without really keeping an eye on their wear and tear because ‘they are good shoes anyway’.
Of course, this is a dangerous behaviour for our body’s health because shoes are our body’s most significant support. We need them in their best shape to live our best life or to live our life at our best – both pain-free and injury-free.
Usually, when a pair of shoes become your favourite pair, or when they are one of those ‘classic / must have’ teams, we tend to keep them for far too long.
And don’t be fooled by appearances. Even if the shoe treads look good, that doesn’t mean the cushion hasn’t gone. The shoes might look alright from above when you look down at your feet, but if you check them on a flat surface from behind, you will realise that this posture is what people see when they follow you walking down the street. Suddenly, your image in those perennially fashionable shoes is no longer outstanding.
To save you this embarrassment and, more importantly, the damage to your body and experience of unnecessary pain, here is a ‘worn-out shoes’ guide for you.
Here are a few tips to help you spot lousy manufacturing and, further down the line, dangerous wear and tear on your footwear. A checklist for collectors, fast fashion followers, investors and buyers to enable you to avoid unnecessary pain and injuries.
Acceptable And Unacceptable Wear And Tear
At first, there are shoe defects. These are unacceptable, and you can spot them at the point of purchase:
- Asymmetry around the heel counter (the support at the back of the shoe’s heel). This will negatively affect your alignment, balance and posture.
- A sharp spur is sticking out. This might hurt or, more seriously, harm you, potentially being a source of infection and leading to an antalgic gait (aka a limp).
- Excess of glue. Besides the aesthetic issue, this weakens the shoe and leads to uneven wear and tear, significantly reducing the lifetime of your shoes.
Then come the natural signs of wear and tear. Those signs must and will show on your shoes as you wear them and should not worry you until the critical points detailed below are reached.
Shoes Or Heel Counter Out Of Shape
A foot that rolls inward as you move (overpronates) or supinates (rolls the other way) will show overtime on the shoe heel, the toe box, or the whole shoe. This is unacceptable and a sign the shoes are damaging your body. Get rid of those shoes! Get rid of them even if you have orthotics made because a pair of orthotics placed in a couple of shoes that are out-of-shape and that mislead your foot will not work, will be uncomfortable and will wear out more quickly.
Tip: Use a wooden shoe tree
Heel Has Worn To A Sloping Edge On The Outside
As we are meant to walk ‘slightly duck-toed’, i.e., with feet pointing outwards with a 7-to-12-degree angle (Fick angle), it is entirely expected that the back of your shoes’ soles appears bevelled on the outside corner of the heel. However, ensure you resolve them once the first layer of the heel is worn. If you leave it too long, this can affect your knees, increase any existing pronation and impact your joints.
Tip: Wear more than one pair of shoes in rotation to give the material some rest.
Holes In The Mesh
This is acceptable as it won’t damage your body, but you must be okay with the look of it, not to mention the rain coming through.
A Part Of The Shoe Is Missing
This may be part of your laces or part of your shoe’s heel. It is unacceptable, but a simple visit to your local cobbler can replace the missing piece.
A Smooth Tread (The Part Of The Shoes That Contacts The Ground)
This is unacceptable simply because it increases your risk of slipping and falling on wet floors, mud, loose gravel, etc.
Dirty Or Soaking Wet
Those won’t damage your body, but shoes are dirtier than a toilet seat. In 2020, a study led by researchers at the University of Arizona found nine different species of bacteria on participants’ shoes. Over two weeks, researchers discovered 440,000 units of bacteria on a single pair of shoes. Millions of bacteria, fungi, and moulds live in our shoes at any time. Bacteria like E. coli are prevalent on the outside of shoes.
So, it would be best if you cleaned your shoes, but avoid using a washing machine or tumble dryer as said shoes could shrink or bend at high temperatures, or the glue could unstick with the amount of water used.
Tips: (1) Stuff your wet shoes with newspaper to adsorb the water, drying them naturally around a decent shape. (2) Store them in a dry place.
Shoes That Have Become Rigid Due To Sticking Mud
Cleaning your shoes after a muddy trail or hike is a bit like cleaning your barbecue immediately after use – easier to do, and you’ll keep both for longer.
The materials used to make the upper of your shoes are supposed to give so that your feet feel comfortable and so the shoes can adapt to your foot shape and flex. The alternative is them becoming a source of inflammation, corn and blisters for the skin on your feet.
Wearing worn-out shoes is dangerous for your foot, ankle, knee, hip, back and neck health.
The list of signs in this article is not exhaustive but sums up what we see the most when dealing with foot health, posture and biomechanics at clinics like PODO.
Be very aware of the state of your footwear. Spend plenty of time checking them in-store at the point of purchase. Then check them regularly on a flat surface and get rid of any pair you associate with any form of body pain. Finally, consult a biomechanics professional if you have any concerns.
I hope you enjoyed that.
About The Author
Christophe Champs is a Biomechanics expert and the PODO Clinic and Workshop founder. Christophe works with clients to help correct postural and biomechanical issues that are causing pain or putting a client at risk of injury. By testing both the moving gait and the still posture, Christophe can correct misalignment and asymmetry by creating custom-made orthotics to suit the exact needs of each client.