Does the Type of Shoes You Wear Change the Way You Walk?

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    Working Against Nature

    • While podiatrists report a higher frequency of foot problems among frequent wearers of high heels and flip-flop sandals, all shoes work against your foot's natural gait. Adam Sternbergh of "New York Magazine" describes a 2007 study performed by researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in which the researchers examined the feet of members from three modern cultures. Members of the Zulu population, who frequently go barefoot, had healthier feet than European members, who wore shoes the most among the studied societies. Nevertheless, the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society do not recommend walking barefoot, but do place limitations on certain types of footwear.

    Basic Stride Differences

    • When walking barefoot, your foot naturally takes short strides that allow you to land softly on your heel, slightly bending your knee. Your foot rolls through the outer edge of your foot until the ball lands on the ground. Your toes then give you a strong push forward into the next step. While wearing standard walking shoes, the padded heel actually causes your heel to land harder. A thick sole prevents your foot from rolling into the next step, and an inflexible toe prevents your toes from pushing off the ground, causing your legs to lift your foot and do more work.

    Good Shoe Design

    • A good shoe design works with the natural design of your foot rather than against it. A beneficial walking shoe has a low, stable heel that promotes a solid landing and a flexible toe that allows your toes to push you forward, easing the pressure off your knees. A good shoe also has a lightweight design. Heavy shoes make it harder for your foot to move naturally, causing your knees to do more lifting and further changing the way you walk.

    Bad Shoe Design

    • January W. Payne of the Washington Post reports that the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society warns against wearing shoes with thin soles and high spike heels. Heels cause your foot to slide forward as you walk, creating excess pressure in your feet and legs, causing pain in your lower back and changing your body's alignment as you walk. Flip-flops also cause problems: your foot repetitively lifts its heel away from the shoe surface, creating tension in the foot and changing the way your heel lands on and lifts off the ground.

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