With the spring thaw and its accompanying mud gumbo more or less behind us, thoughts turn naturally to buying a new pair of walking shoes, or even summer sandals. ‘Tis the season for podiatrists and chiropractors to greet a new crop of patients suffering from ill-fitting shoes.

“The biggest problem we see in our practice is a woman who wears a high heel, causing problems with her lower back, such as increased curvature of the lower spine, or swayback,” explained Jim Wilson of the Maplegrove Chiropractic Clinic in Oakville, Ont. “Feet are the base of your whole system. Every time you plant your foot, energy is transferred through the body like a shock absorber.”

A shoe with good support will reduce the amount of stress on the joints in the lower back, ankle, knee and hip, and help maintain an arched instep (and guard against flat feet).

To ensure happy feet, Dr. Morris Zoladek, a podiatrist at the Burlington Family Foot Health Centre in Burlington, Ont., suggested shopping for best shoes for bunions and hammertoes between 2 and 4 p.m., when your feet are probably at their biggest (blood returning to the heart from the feet, working against gravity, causes legs and feet to swell slightly). Buy your shoes in the morning and they may be too tight when your feet swell in the afternoon.

Dr. Zoladek recommends patronizing shoe stores that measure feet with a so-called Branic device, which measures width and length of the foot and the arch length when you stand in it.

“Don’t buy shoes with extra length to make up for width,” Dr. Zoladek advised. “We take at least five to six-thousand steps a day; if you’re wearing the wrong-shoes, you’re going to run into problems.”

If you walk 15 to 20 miles a week, he recommends replacing your walking shoes every year. More active joggers should expect to go through three pairs a year.

But beware the long shelf life. When it comes to best athletic shoes for plantar fasciitis , Dr. Zoladek cautioned that the molecular structure of the cushion can change while sitting on the shelf, causing it to lose some shock-absorption capability, though the shoe is still unworn. (Unfortunately, there’s no easy way for the customer to tell before buying).

Dr. Zoladek offers a computerized gait analysis at the Foot Centre that evaluates your feet while you wear your shoes. The $25 test can point out problems with old shoes such as lack of support, cushioning and how the foot functions in the shoes. It will let you know if you need a custom- made orthotic, or arch-support insert. And it can also offer insight into how your feet will function in a different style of shoe.

Finally, Dr. Zoladek questions the need to buy exotic, expensive fitness shoes, whether for walking, cross training, running, tennis or aerobics. “Fit, fit, fit]” he says, is the most important consideration. “This is probably something the shoe companies don’t like to hear me say, but, if you buy a shoe in the $100 range, there is very little difference between the top 10 manufacturers. Very few people require a specialized casual shoe.”

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