By Megan Kawasaki
Gladiators. Flats. Flip-flops. Wedges. High-tops.
Whatever the name, shoes are a quintessential item in the wardrobe of any high school girl. Looks aside though, the prized shoes of most girls could be hurting their feet in the long run.
“Wearing heels would definitely be pretty difficult when going up these stairs,” Meghan Hartman ’12 said, referring to the numerous stairs that typify the upper school campus.
To combat the unforgiving trudge across the school terrain, she tends to wear low-top sneakers and flip-flops, practical choices rather than stylistic ones.
“If you’re rushed in the morning like I am, it’s a lot easier to put on a pair of sandals or Converse [sneakers] rather than trying to rummage around for a really cute pair of flats or boots,” Hartman said.
However, Converse sneakers have virtually no support due to their flimsy soles, according to Dr. Jeffrey Hurless, a podiatrist in Thousand Oaks. He advocates shoes that have firm soles, a proper flex point that aligns with where the toes bend, adjustable laces and a strong heel counter at the back of the shoe, which together guarantee foot comfort and support.
Popular shoes such as Converse sneakers do not have those supportive features, but it is perfectly acceptable to wear them with insoles, Hurless said. A poor shoe’s stability can be significantly improved with orthotics, special insoles designed by podiatrists or other kinds of arch support, Hurless said.
Prolonged wear of those casual sneakers without added support often leads to unpleasant ramifications.
“If I walk around Disneyland in Converse [sneakers], at the end of the day, my feet are in so much pain,” Hartman said. “It actually hurts more than if I wore heels.”
Consistently wearing flat shoes can lead to foot and leg pain, according to the American Podiatrical Medical Association, but for people with flat feet, the problems could be more severe.
“If you ignore a flat arch, and continue to wear non-supportive style shoes, you are more susceptible to things like tendon injuries, tendonitis, arthritis, ankle instability and chronic pain,” Hurless said.
Those whose feet are healthy and pain-free have license to wear whatever types of shoes they prefer in moderation, Hurless said. This is not much of a deterrent to students, however, no matter what their feet are like.
“I feel people pick shoes based on fashion rather than function,” Hartman said. “People want to look put-together, so you might opt for the shoe that looks better with the outfit but may not necessarily feel better. Sometimes I sacrifice that little bit of comfort just to look nicer.”
While flat shoes have their vices, wearing fashionable high heels is not much of an improvement, if they broach into heights beyond three inches. Such shoes are considered harmful, because by pushing the body’s center of mass forward, the hips and spine can go out of alignment. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons claims this uneven distribution of weight can possibly cause physical deformities. For every inch the heel increases, the more pressure is placed onto the forefoot.
Shorter heels, ones that are less than an inch tall, can actually help support feet.
“A 3/4 inch to an inch [heel] is probably not going to do any damage to anybody from ages 15 to 18,” Hurless said. That’s not that extensive of a heel. It takes some of the tension off of the Achilles tendon.”
“When you’re in a sport, the load and the demand on the foot go up exponentially high,” Hurless said. “Normal humans put about two times their body weight with each walking step. When you go up to a run, five to six times your body weight goes through every single stride.”
For Danni Xia, ’12 a track and cross country runner, taking care of her feet is a major priority. She has flat feet, a relatively common condition in which the arches of the feet collapse, according to the Mayo Clinic. As a result, her ankles tend to turn inward, putting her legs slightly out of alignment. To fix it, she wears Orthotics insoles, specially designed to realign bones and correct the pronation of her feet.
“They really help my feet when I’m running and walking. It’s also really convenient because I don’t have to worry about my feet when I’m in sneakers,” Xia said.
She usually gravitates to her familiar New Balance walking shoes, which fulfill her pressing need for arch support.
Tennis player Alexia Le ’14, however, isn’t too fond of wearing her supportive shoes to school.
Le, who mostly sports Converse and Keds sneakers on campus avoids wearing sandals and believes her avid athleticism might mitigate any potential damage to her feet, she said.
As fashionable it is to wear sandals or flats to school, the potential dangers of such unsupportive shoes in the future are apparent.
“I did a six-hour surgery on a woman with flat feet, and the surgery was to reconstruct her arch because she got to the point where she had so much pain that we had to reconstruct from a flat foot,” Hurless said. “That tells you where you can go.”