Once I solved the riddle of painful shoes, I decided to drill down and look at different types of footwear. Its been years since I had enjoyed walking in sandals, so I decided to explore what made sandals so uncomfortable.. According to NYC podiatrist Dr Michael Schumacher there are three key issues in a sandal:
1. Sandal Cushioning
The search for a foot- friendly sandal starts at the bottom with padding. You want a nice soft layer of rubber on the soles and a layer of foam on the inside of the sandal. This would start to explain why those uber chic leather designer sandals are just dialing for pain
2. Sandals Need A Little Heel
We all know that towering heels are never good for the feet, but what is less well known is that totally flat shoes have their own set of problems for the feet. Dr Schumacher recmmends an ideal heel height of one to two inches– another reason why those jeweled flat italian sandals are so painful
3. Sandal Support
Here is where many sandels fail to meet the grade. A few strips of leather or ribbon just cannot provide the support for the arch, stabilize the heel and allow the toes to stay relaxed. If the sandal has a single strap across the instep , it needs to be wide enough to cover the toes. This means that the toes don’t have to be clenched to keep the shoe on the foot. You will get even more support if the sandal straps go up the instep and around the ankle.
Putting Sandal Theory Into Practice
I brought a pile of sandal photos to Dr Schumacher to pick out the winners from the losers;
1.Flip Flops– The number one worst sandal ever sandal is the always popular flip flop. Originally designed to protect the feet from infections in public showers, it has now morphed into a the summer shoe for all occasions. Not only do they tend to become moldly, the rough rubber soles produce friction blisters. The toes need to grip the sole so tightly that the foot can develop tendonitis and encourage development of bunions and hammertoes.
2. Flat leather sandals– This style is a favorite with celebrated designers and seemingly essential for summer fashion layouts. While the thin strips hold the foot to the shoe better than the flip flop, the total absence of cushioning and the uber flat heel make this a problem from the soles of your feet to the top of your spine.
3 Wedge sandal– While the feet need a one to two inch heel for optimum confort, four inch platforms leave the ankle vulnerable to sprains and breaks. However if the wedge sandal is two inches or less, this sandal is a winner for both your feet and spine.
4. The Slide Sandal- This is the backless flat leather sandal that is even more popular than the rubber flip flop. It holds the heel down somewhat more than the flip flop, but it lacks suppport, cushioning and a little lift to raise the heel.
The Better Sandal
If you feel I have described just about every sandal you see in the street, you would not be that wrong. Most of us spend the summer in sandals that hurt our feet, knees and back. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many affordable, foot- friendly sandals in the stores– you just have to know what to look for.
For me, “Birks” were cluncky, unflattering brown suede sandals. Then designers that included Celine and Givenchy sent their models out on the runway wearing Birkenstocks in red , white or black patant leather. Suddenly comfort was chic and IMO definately a sign of a smarter planet. These now cool sandals get it right from the tip of your toe to the back of your heel. The show is padded both inside and out. The toes nestle in a slight depression and a rim around the toes and heel adds extra protection. The broad straps keep the heel flat against the shoe and provide support for the arch. The molded sole adds additional arch support for every part of the foot.
Birkenstocks are just one option for foot saavy sandals. Platform sandals that have cushioning and are between 1-2 inches are another foot friendly option. Platform espadrilles and even gladiator sandals meet the grade if they have both padding and a raised heel. Just keep the three key factors in mind– raised heel, padding and support– when shopping for sandals and you will have a beautiful, comfortable summer.