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Foot Binding, the Modern Version

Originally posted on May 15, 2011

Physical Therapists are never off duty. When someone walks by, we evaluate their gait, their stride length, their asymmetries; in short, everything about the way they walk – we can’t help it!

 { …. those fashionable stilettos can lead to long lasting foot deformities and years of pain..}

One day recently, while at a stop sign, I watched a young woman tottering as she walked by. From my vantage point behind the wheel, I could only see her from the hips up, but I was sure she had a significant medical disorder by the way she lurched uneasily across the street. Was it neurological or orthopedic? No, I discovered as she cleared the car, it was 5-inch heels.

We all recoil at the ancient practice of foot binding, right? In the novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, the description of wrapping girls’ feet in progressively tighter bandages was disturbing. Were dainty feet that important? Why would anyone endure such torture? Okay ladies, now open your closet and slip your foot into some undersized, pointy-toed, five-inch heels and you might realize that women’s fashion in America is not too far afield. OUCH. I mean OUCH!

Not everyone feels pain at first, but those fashionable stilettos can eventually lead to long lasting foot deformities and years of pain. If it was just pain for the moment that would be one thing, but pain that becomes crippling over time is another matter.

The American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS) believes that foot problems resulting from poorly fitting shoes have reached epidemic proportions and pose a major health risk for women in America. A 1991 AOFAS survey of 356 women found that almost 90% wore shoes too small or too narrow (by one or two width sizes!), and about 80% had foot problems. Many suffer from bunions, hammer toes, corns, ingrown toenails and other disabling foot problems.

Here are some suggestions on proper shoe fit from the American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society. Treat your feet right. They support you. You need to support them. Wear shoes that fit properly. You can prevent foot problems by paying attention to how you select your shoes.

10 Points of Proper Shoe Fit

1. Sizes vary among shoe brands and styles. Don’t select shoes by the size marked inside the shoe. Judge the shoe by how it fits on your foot.

2. Select a shoe that conforms as nearly as possible to the shape of your foot.

3. Have your feet measured regularly. The size of your feet changes, as you grow older. For women, they may change during pregnancy.

4. Have BOTH feet measured. Most people have one foot larger than the other. Fit to the larger foot.

5. Fit at the end of the day when your feet are largest.

6. Stand during the fitting process and check that there is adequate space (3/8″ to 1/2″) for your longest toe at the end of each shoe.

7. Make sure the ball of the foot fits comfortably into the widest part (ball pocket) of the shoe.

8. Don’t purchase shoes that feel too tight, expecting them to “stretch” to fit.

9. Your heel should fit comfortably in the shoe with a minimum amount of slippage.

10. Walk in the shoe to make sure it fits and feels right!

Bonus Tip:  Fashionable shoes CAN be comfortable!

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