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Hiking Shoes: The Good and the Bad

There is a plethora of footwear on the market today, and while fashion is a substantial factor in people’s footwear selections, the function of footwear must also be taken into consideration. As a pedorthist, I often see patients who are in pain because they have focused on footwear fashion rather than function during busy days at work and recreational activities. For example, one of the most frequent problems I see in my patients are people wearing a slip-on casual shoe for their after-work walks. Any form of prolonged walking requires functional footwear.

Hiking has become a growing hobby during this pandemic, leading to more Canadians exploring this beautiful country and its infinite hiking trails. During my own hikes, I can often tell who is a seasoned hiker and who is a beginner based on their footwear. The major difference: hiking shoes. But are they really necessary? This article will dive into the good and the bad of hiking shoes.

High-end footwear companies invest heavily in research and testing their footwear to ensure that they are effective for the activity they are marketed to. For this reason, it is important to consider building a footwear wardrobe that features both fashionable footwear for when we want to look our best as well as functional footwear for when we need our body to perform. One or two shoe types are not appropriate for all activities. I too often see patients that have injuries, aches and pains because they took their casual shoe or sneaker out for a hike. Trust me, your sneakers prefer the sidewalk and the backyard, leave them at home! For hiking, you need a proper hiking shoe or at the very least a sturdy walking/running shoe. It really comes down to what type of trail you are challenging!

Hiking Shoes: The Good

Hiking shoes are designed and engineered for protection from the elements. They feature a stiff rugged outsole (the rubber on the bottom of the shoe) that is designed for gripping various surfaces including dirt, rocks, mud and water and protecting your foot from stepping on sharp rocks. If you’ve ever walked a rugged trail in a typical pair of sneakers you know too well what it feels like to step on a sharp rock!

Another key feature in hiking footwear is that they have increased ankle support. The difference between a hiking shoe and a hiking boot is that typically the boot will have more ankle support. Hiking boots go above the ankle while hiking shoes stay below the ankle (similar to your sneakers). Choosing between these two types of hiking footwear depends on the terrain you are hiking on and your personal injury history. When hiking on uneven surfaces it is common to have quick twists and rotations of the ankle. The higher the boot goes above the ankle the more protection it provides from twisting or spraining an ankle. But don’t be fooled, this extra support is not going to prevent injury 100% of the time.

Hiking Shoes: The Bad

Remember that rigid outsole that is protecting you from sharp rocks? Well, the trade-off for this is that because of the thick rigid outsole, your feet (and your brain) cannot feel the ground as well as when you are barefoot. This means your brain is getting fewer signals from the feet to help try and figure out if you stepped on a flat surface, angled surface, or a sharp rock. Your brain (and therefore the muscles in your foot and ankle) has to react to the forces interacting between the hiking boot and your foot, rather than between your foot and the ground. This causes a very brief delay in your brain’s response (and therefore the contraction of muscles) which means your muscles have to contract faster to compensate for this lost time. This can increase the chance of a twisted ankle if your brain doesn’t have enough time to react to the uneven surface.

Twisted ankles happen to me frequently on hikes. For me it usually occurs when I am distracted by a view, an animal, or a conversation with a friend (and my history of ankle sprains does not do me any favours!). It is also very common for them to occur later in a hike when your brain (not your muscles) is tired. Yes, you can exhaust your nervous system! That is why you probably tuned out somewhere in the last paragraph! Have you ever noticed that when you are hiking on rugged terrain, you are constantly scanning and analyzing the terrain ahead of you with your eyes? This is your brain’s strategy to mitigate risk and find the easiest route. Now imagine walking that same terrain with your eyes closed. I would rather walk rugged terrain with my eyes closed in my bare feet than in my hiking boots because my brain will get more sensory information and I am less likely to twist my ankle.

In Conclusion

So, should everyone stop wearing hiking boots when hiking? Of course not, or, maybe. It depends on the type of trail you are challenging, your personal biomechanics, your personal injury history and how many sharp rocks are on the trail! Personally, I have a history of ankle sprains and I need all the ankle support I can get. I prefer a hiking boot with a highly supportive ankle and an outsole that protects me from sharp rocks but also allows me to feel the ground a bit, and yes, feel the odd really sharp rock. If you are challenging a fairly flat terrain with a well laid out path, you likely need a hiking shoe with a less rigid outsole and could probably get away with wearing a sturdy walking shoe. If you are hiking a serious trail with elevation, rocks, and water, you likely want a hiking boot with the increased protection of a rugged outsole; but remember the trade-off, you need to be mindful of your terrain and use your eyes to give your brain extra information about the trail ahead. Visually scanning your route ahead is more important than stressing about what exact level of rigid outsole and ankle support your hiking shoe features. Your eyes are going to protect you from ankle sprains far better than your hiking shoes.

Be mindful, and enjoy the trails!

by Brandon Nethercott, R. Kin, C. Ped (C)


Five Fails of Summer Shoes

On hot summer days, sandals can be an easy breezy footwear choice. But, it’s important to choose your footwear carefully based on your planned activity and not the weather. Most sandals are not appropriate for long walks or exercise. They’re also not your best bet for activities such as running errands all day, walking the dogs or standing all day at work. Running or walking shoes may be more suited for these kinds of activities to help prevent or reduce foot pain at the end of the day.

Why are sandals not appropriate? Here are five features of sandals/flip flops that aren’t good for prolonged time on your feet:

Thin Base/No Cushioning

Most sandals have a much thinner base than running shoes. This reduces the cushioning and shock absorption of the shoe. If the shoe is not absorbing the shock, this force needs to go somewhere. That somewhere may be your feet or knees. The longer you walk, the more force that accumulates on your feet and knees. With a thicker base, some of the shock is absorbed in the sole. This reduces the force at your feet and legs, allowing them to last longer without pain developing.

No Heel Support

Heel support in your shoes is measured by the heel counter, which is the area directly behind the heel. To test the support at the heel counter, push on the back of the heel. The heel counter should be stiff.

Sandals lack support in this area because most will have a flimsy strap, or nothing at all. The heel counter holds the heel in place and prevents it from moving around. Those who are flat footed may have an issue with excessive heel movement, where this heel support becomes especially important.

Excessive motion at the heel may lead to pain and discomfort in your lower limb, especially after a long walk.

No Arch Support

This arch support can be from a custom orthotic or supportive insole, or from the stiffness of the midsole (thick sole area). The midsole stiffness holds the foot in place and prevents excessive motion around the arch.

Most sandals have a flexible midsole and a flat arch, lacking in support. Some sandals have a built-in arch support, which improves the support in the sandal. Even with this extra support, sandals are still not recommended for long walks due to the other factors explained in this article. 

Straps

Sandals contain straps instead of a full upper (material on the top of the shoe). The limited material on the top of the foot allows the foot to move around more. This could become an issue when on long walks because it would be more likely to roll an ankle. Also, the toes may grip more often to keep the sandal on the foot, which may lead to issues at the ball of the foot. In terms of support, straps don’t do a good job with holding your foot in place, which can be an issue for lower limb pain. This is especially true for those with flat feet because the feet tend to move around more often and need additional support to prevent this motion.

No Toe Protection

The problem with an opened toed sandal during long walks it that it exposes your toes to potential obstructions. As you start to tire on longer walks, you may inadvertently become careless and injure your exposed toes.

Before you walk out the door, think about the type of activity you are doing and adjust your footwear accordingly! If your sandals don’t have any of these problematic features then you’ve chosen well and they may be suitable for longer walks or activities. If you would like specific advice, talk to your local pedorthist for more personalized information!

By Julia Hayman C. Ped (C)


Rock Your Walk

Walking has always been an easy entry-level form of exercise that can provide long lasting positive effects on physical and mental health. Walking is now becoming a growing hobby for everyone stuck at home during the current pandemic we are experiencing in 2020. With all this extra time on people’s hands, we have more time to focus on our health. For those looking to improve their well-being or just escape the house, walking can be much more than just a leisure activity.

Warm-Up

That’s right, if it’s been a while since your sneakers have seen the sunlight you should consider preparing your body and easing your body into a walking routine. Although walking may seem like a leisure activity for most, you need to keep in mind that walking is a repetitive form of exercise. This means that the same muscle groups are going through the same repetitions and contraction patterns every single step and every single kilometre. This means that there is a risk of developing an overuse injury, similar to overuse running injuries developed by runners. If your body has been settling into a sitting posture over the winter months and recent quarantine your hips, knees and low back almost certainly need some preparation before lacing up your sneakers and tackling a rugged trail or urban path.

  • Heel-raises: Heel raises are a great way to warm up your ankles and get blood flowing in the calf muscles. Your calf muscle has two muscle bellies. When you are up on your toes try shifting your body weight from your big toe to your baby toe and see if you can feel these different muscle bellies contracting.
  • Squats: Body-weight squats (meaning no-weights) are a great active warm-up to open up your hip range of motion, increase blood flow to the thighs and stretch the gluteal muscles. You don’t need to do a full squat, the goal here is to get blood flowing and muscles contracting. Fun fact: the gluteus maximus (more commonly called your buttocks) is your largest muscle in the body and many people do not use it to its full potential! Pedorthists see this limited use every day and can help you improve the function of your hips while you walk.
  • Toe-stretch: You may not think about your toes much, but they play a very important role in walking. Prepare your feet for your walk by stretching all 5 of your toes up and toward your shin. If you have tight foot muscles you may feel a stretch through the bottom of your foot. If you feel an exceptionally tight stretch you should consider massaging your feet with a firm ball before walking or even consult your local pedorthist.
  • Stretch: You likely do not need to do much stretching before a walk. Researchers are finding that static stretching is far less effective at warming up muscles than the exercises listed above. However, it is a good idea to stretch any specific muscles that you know are routinely tight in your body. Pro-tip – make frequent stops during your walk to stretch. This will also give your body a brief rest to get more oxygen into your blood which will delay muscle fatigue. Stopping to stretch and take a quick break, even if you don’t feel tired, will allow you to go farther and faster.

 

Watches, Apps & Stats

With the surge of tech in the last decade it seems like everyone is tracking every second and every metre of their exercise routines. The ability to use data to track your goals and exercise achievements is empowering but it can also be harmful, so be careful what you pay attention to and remember to always ‘listen’ to your body. It is not normal to do EXACTLY 10,000 steps every single day. It is important to set goals, but it is also important to give yourself a break if you do not reach your daily goal. Life is busy and unpredictable in the best of times so cut yourself some slack. If your goal is to do 10k steps per day and you were 4k short yesterday, do not try and do 14k steps today to make up for the missing steps; this is what leads to injury.
Some great tech that you can use for your walks include Strava, AllTrails, Garmin Connect, Nike Run Club, FitBit, Apple Watch, and a really fun one I personally recommend everyone try at least once is an app called ‘Zombies, Run!’

Mix-It Up

Try your best not to do the same route, in the same shoes, at the same pace, every single walk. Keep your body fine-tuned by mixing up your walks with some variety. If you walk to the end of your laneway and turn right every single walk (assuming you are on a sidewalk) you are putting asymmetrical stress on your right and left legs due to the sidewalk being sloped. This is another possible cause for injury. Try going alternate routes to put a variety of stress on your muscle groups.

A great way to train your heart and improve cardiovascular health is to do interval training. This can be done while walking and is not just reserved for athletes. Try walking at a comfortable pace for about 75% of your walk and work in several short higher-intensity segments throughout your route. This will cause your heart-rate to adjust to the new speed. Researchers have shown that this change in heart-rate improves cardiovascular endurance and health better than maintaining a steady heart-rate (and therefore speed) the entire route of your walk.

Change up your footwear. Footwear is a functional piece of clothing. Just like your smart-watch and your sunglasses, footwear serves both a functional purpose and a fashion purpose. You won’t be surprised to read that most pedorthists care little about footwear fashion and that’s because improper footwear can cause a multitude of problems and injuries. Make sure you consult your local pedorthist to learn about what footwear features match your foot-type and the activity you are wearing them for. One pair of sneakers is not necessarily appropriate for all activities. Many high-end athletes will train in a variety of footwear that have very similar features, yet are just different enough that muscle groups are recruited slightly differently between each pair of shoes. By rotating between 2-3 pair of shoes this prevents muscles from contracting in the exact same position and length every single step, every single day. Indeed this is a large investment, but one that will pay-off in the form of decreased risk of injury and a better looking footwear wardrobe!

by Brandon Nethercott, R. Kin, C. Ped (C)


Tips for Injury Prevention

With the arrival of summer and nice weather, more and more of us will be getting out and being more active. 2020 has so far been a trying year for many people, with COVID-19 interrupting people’s normal routines and greatly effecting physical fitness levels.

Now, with a surge in people getting back to their chosen activities, it is inevitable that injuries will occur. Injuries though, can be prevented. Here are some simple tips to keeping you pain free and out enjoying the things you love to do.

  • Warm Up. This sounds almost too easy of a tip to mention, but for many of us, time is of the essence. With work, family and life, tasks taking up more and more time, we often only get a small window to be active. Still, warming up is key. Take the time to do some simple stretches, get moving and gradually increase your intensity level before going all out in your activity.
  • Again, you’re reading this and thinking, really? Really! Most of the population doesn’t drink enough water during the day as it is, but bringing something to drink is a commonly overlooked part of any activity. Whether you are lifting weights, going for a walk, a run or a hike, bring water. This is even more important now, as many public water stations will be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Proper footwear. This is a big one for us in the pedorthic community. Proper and appropriate footwear is key to injury prevention no matter your activity is. Would you wear flip-flops to play ice-hockey? Sounds silly doesn’t it? Well, take that example and apply it to any other activity. You wouldn’t wear soccer cleats to go golfing or roller blades to go biking. Choosing the appropriate shoes for the appropriate activity is key and while there is an expense to buying shoes, if it is an activity you plan on pursuing, it’s worthwhile to invest in it.
  • Be prepared. This one is the biggest aspect that is often overlooked. If you are planning on doing a 5K run, make sure you work up to that distance. If you are going for a hike, know the route and make sure you have water, proper shoes and you can do the hike. By being prepared for your chosen activity you will greatly reduce the chances of suffering an injury doing something you love.

So, there you have it. Four quick tips to help you stay injury free. If you have any questions on any of the tips, definitely make an appointment with your local pedorthist and we’d be happy to guide you!

By Steve Stred, C. Ped (C)


Foot Strengthening for a Barefoot Summer

As warm weather and sunshine returns to Canada so do summer wardrobes, flip-flops and sandals. Some people enjoy going barefoot more often than they are used to and who can blame them?! Personally I love the feeling of grass under my feet and mud squishing between my toes.

One condition that pedorthists see frequently in the summer months is a condition that we like to call ‘seasonal barefoot-itis’. Folks who normally wear footwear most of the time are now wearing sandals and are going barefoot and they come into clinics with aches and pains in the toes, feet, knees and low-back.

Here are three simple exercises that can fine-tune some of the muscles in your feet and ankles to prepare yourself for sandal and barefoot season.

  1. Calf raises. Standing on both feet, slowly raise your heels off the ground as high as you can and hold this position for 5 seconds. Slowly lower your heels to the ground. Touch the ground (do not rest) and repeat. This is strengthening muscles in your calf as well as the arch of the foot.

  1. Single-leg balance. While holding something sturdy, stand on one leg. Close your eyes and focus all your mental awareness on the pressure on the bottom of your foot and the contractions of your muscles in your feet and ankles. Try your best to completely stabilize your ankle without twitching side-to-side. If you find this easy, put a slight bend in your knee to make things a little trickier. This is more of an exercise for your brain than for your ankle muscles. Your brain is trying to find the perfect position for balance without using your eye-sight as a short-cut. This is training your nervous system! A healthy neural connection between the brain and your feet will keep you balanced and avoid injuries.
  2. Toe-curls. For this one you will need a stretchy exercise band. Sit in a chair so that your knee and ankle are at 90 degree angles. Place the band underneath your foot from heel to toe. Ensure that your small toes are on the band, and your big toe is off to the side of the band, firmly on the ground. The end of the band should stretch from your toes to about your knee. Keep your heel, big toe, and the ball of your foot firmly on the ground and allow the stretchy band to pull your toes up in the air. Now, while keeping your toes straight, contract (or curl) your toes to the ground. Hold for 5 seconds and slowly allow the band to bring your toes back up into the air. Repeat.

The number of recommended repetitions and sets of these exercises is different for everyone. As a general rule, if you find yourself getting tired and unable to perform the technique of the exercise or hold it in the correct position, you should stop and record that number. The next time you workout try to match that number or surpass it by 1-2 repetitions. Remember, these are introductory exercises and you will master them within a few weeks. Your local pedorthist or physical therapist can guide you on how to improve upon these basic exercises.

Always keep in mind that if you are used to wearing supportive footwear and orthotic devices, you are going to need several weeks to get used to being barefoot, even for short periods of time. The feet need time to adapt to this change in pressure on the bones and load on the muscles of the foot and ankle. Start slow and gradually increase your time in sandals or barefoot. If you run into problems or encounter any new aches or pains, always consult your local pedorthist who will have the best understanding of your individual biomechanics and what you can and cannot tolerate.

by Brandon Nethercott, R. Kin, C. Ped (C)


Easy At-Home Foot Care Tips for Seniors

Feet are one of the most overused yet overlooked parts of your body. Your feet help you get around and stay mobile and active. Staying active is what keeps you and your body healthy. So everyone needs to pay more attention to your feet – especially seniors. Healing rates can decline in seniors and there can be issues with circulation in the feet that also decrease the rate of healing.

Ingrown toenails are a common problem for seniors and can decrease a person’s activity especially if the ingrown nail gets infected. This can severely curtail activity because it is uncomfortable to walk. If a person has ingrown toenails, having shoes that are not wide enough and deep enough to avoid putting pressure on the foot can aggravate the current situation. These shoes can also be responsible for causing the ingrown toenails to reoccur.

Because the soft tissue in seniors’ feet is diminished, corns and calluses are more frequent and need proper care to make them go away and keep them from returning. Gradual removal of calluses is the best way to proceed. The root cause of corns is point source pressure between the foot and shoe. It is important to find the root cause and deal with it. If it is a problem with a broken insole in the shoe, replacing the insole or shoe may be required. If it is a problem with the corn being on the top of the toes, the upper may be too tight at that spot. Stretching of the upper will help relieve pressure at the point source and the corn can diminish when the area is not irritated.

Footcare tips for Seniors:

  • Above all, “bathroom surgery” is to be avoided!! This especially applies to people with circulation issues and diabetes. Taking any harp item like a knife blade to cut off calluses and corns is a very risky business. With circulation being diminished, healing is slower and resources to combat infections is also diminished. This is why it’s crucial these procedures are only done by a trained professional.
  • Examine your feet at least once a week – Putting your feet on a stool can help you to see your feet and provide care yourself or for others who provide the care if you can not do it. You should be on the look out for cuts, scratches, cracked skin, growths, numbness or any other new developments. If you find a sore that’s not healing, lo
  • oks infected or any other abnormalities get it checked out by your doctor or Canadian Certified Pedorthist as soon as possible.
  • Nail care is an important aspect of foot care. Cut the toenails square and have the length just beyond the weight bearing surface to avoid the possibility of the nails being ingrown.
  • When you finish bathing, pay particular attention to drying the foot especially between the toes. Wet skin is a lot more easily injured as moisture can help promote skin and nail infections.
  • Moisturize your feet except between the toes at least once a day if you are a senior. If your skin is cracking, it is important to do this a couple of times a day. I recommend moisturizing creams with shea butter and cocoa butter for natural moisturizing.

If you have any questions, please contact your friendly local pedorthist https://www.pedorthic.ca/find-a-pedorthist/

By Jim Pattison, B.Sc, C. Ped (C)

 


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