Tips for buying shoes

If you are fortunate enough to live in a city as walkable as San Francisco, you know how important your choice of footwear is to your level of comfort as you meander through the weekend or charge through a workday.  But, since our grade school educations don’t often include a primer on choosing shoes that work for your body, many of us are left to wonder what kinds of shoes are going to work best for us.  It’s taken me many, many years to learn how to discern healthy shoes from clogs of the devil, and many clients often ask about the optimal shoe selection to support the changes that Rolfing® gives them, so here are a few key points to remember when buying shoes.

1. You are your best expert. I’ve seen cowboy boots with the official seal of approval from the American Podiatric Association that would put you on the fast track to bunion-ville and plantar fasciitis land.  For some people such boots might be fine, but remember that if it doesn’t feel right TO YOU, it isn’t right FOR YOU — no matter what anyone or any professionals (myself included!) say.

2. Let your feet be feet and your ankles ankles. We’ve all heard stories of African marathon runners training barefoot all their lives, and many of us are rightfully awed by and jealous of their feats.  When training barefoot, these runners are allowing their feet and ankles to function the way they’re supposed to — flexibly and according to the demands of the terrain.  In just one of your feet, there are 26 bones that are capable of adapting to the surfaces you walk on if the soft tissues are moving the way they ideally should.  I personally prefer shoes with no arch support and a thinner sole so that I can actually feel the cracks in the pavement, but your mileage may vary (see number 1 above).  I know I couldn’t wear the shoes I wear today back when I was still suffering from daily bouts of plantar fasciitis.

  • Don’t get the thickest sole you can find and only get as much arch support as you’re one hundred percent sure you need.  If you wear stiff, thick soled shoes, your feet aren’t feeling anything but rubber.  If you wear shoes with strong arch support, you are actually preventing the arches of your foot from compressing the way they are meant to, which changes the way impact moves through your whole body (and can end up doing in your back, neck, and shoulders).
  • If you get boots, try to make sure your ankle can still bend in them so you don’t have to walk as if you have a set of permanently stubbed toes.
  • Watch out for soles that tilt your foot in or out.  My personal experience with and my observations of Converse sneakers tells me that those soles tilt your feet in and impair ankle movement, but again, you’re the expert.

3. Get the right size! If your shoes are too small, you’ll be cramping your toes and squeezing the life out of your precious feet.  If they’re too big, they’ll probably cause you blisters and make your walk look, sound, and feel more like a clumsy shuffle than an easy stride.  Your shoe shouldn’t feel quite like a glove, but it definitely shouldn’t feel like a bucket.

4. Keep function in mind. When you’re looking for shoes, know why you’re looking for them.  Are they for running?  Hiking?  Looking pretty?  Looking professional?  Know the function and then try to find something that’s going to meet that need and the needs of your feet.  If they’re just for cruising down Market, you may not have to be too terribly picky.

5. Enjoy and relax. There are few situations in life that are ever as nice as the way we idealize them. It’s hard finding shoes that are both functional and appropriate to one’s sense of style.  High heels and men’s dress shoes are generally not great for you, as they paralyze your feet in an awkward position which, as you know, only feels natural after a good amount of acclimation.  However, I would never recommend that you wear a pair of thin soled tennis shoes with a Vera Wang evening gown to the Black and White Ball nor a pair of Vibram Barefeet Shoes to play broom hockey.

And that’s it.  Happy shoe hunting!


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.