Your feet are the foundation of your body. Every day the average human walks 8,000-10,000 steps, logging enough miles over a lifetime to walk the circumference of the earth four times. And although your feet only comprise three percent of your body, they are responsible for supporting 97 percent of your body weight.

Yet most Americans neglect to care for their feet properly: we wear ill-fitting shoes, we choose style over comfort and support, and we ignore the warning signs of foot health issues. More than 80 percent of the population has some type of foot problem that causes pain in the feet, ankles, hips, joints or spine.

One way to take care of your feet is by wearing the right footwear. Good footwear is supportive, aids the gait cycle and, if necessary, corrects foot movements to help get you back into alignment.

Out of the “gait”
When we walk, the foot pronates, rolling inward slightly as we move through our normal gait cycle. But over-pronation is quite common and can lead to serious foot health issues. If you over-pronate, your foot and ankle roll further inwardly than is necessary to support the natural gait cycle. Quality, well-made footwear has a strong medial (inside) post that acts as a roll bar, preventing your foot and ankle from rolling over too far.

Supination, a less common issue, refers to the outward rolling of the foot and ankle during the gait cycle. Excessive supination can result in the ankle rolling completely over and can lead to ankle sprains or ligament damage. Again, well-made, supportive footwear can help combat excessive supination by reducing your ankle’s outward rolling motion and reducing the likelihood of injury.

Foot health awareness
Little is widely known in the PPE arena about the hazards of poor foot health. However, much like ergonomics has revolutionized the office furniture industry, a better understanding of overall foot health will drive the footwear industry in the future.

A serious runner would never buy a pair of running shoes without a proper gait analysis from a qualified footwear specialist. The gait analysis looks at everything from how the person’s foot moves through their gait cycle to the height of their arches. Yet runners likely only spend four or five hours at a time in their running shoes.

Workers in industries from manufacturing to construction to food service spend eight to ten hours a day on their feet moving through a variety of motions. But they have probably never had a gait analysis. They most likely shop based on a list of specific requirements that their footwear must meet — slip resistance, steel toe, electrical hazard, etc. Imagine shopping for footwear that meets your individual gait cycle needs as well as provides the protective features your job demands. Next time you shop for new work footwear, keep the following in mind:
  1. Ask for gait cycle analysis. Your local independent retailer or shoemobile will have the most qualified salespeople to help you with this. (See sidebar) Ask them to tell you if your gait cycle is neutral (normal) or if you over-pronate or supinate. How are your arches? High? Flat? Have them identify specific features you should look for in footwear to combat these issues.

  2. Bring your old shoes with you. The salesperson can analyze wear patterns on the soles of your shoes to help them identify foot issues or problems with your gait cycle.

  3. Make sure your footwear fits properly. Have both the length and width of your feet measured. Most safety footwear manufacturers make footwear in both normal and wide widths, since fit is essential. If one foot is larger than the other, buy for the bigger size.

  4. Shop for footwear later in the day, when feet are likely to be swollen. This will help you gauge how footwear will feel at the end of a long day.
Once you have done this, the next shopping trip will be less daunting (and less time-consuming). You’ll become familiar with your individual foot health issues and learn what features to look for to combat them. You’ll be able to visually identify design cues in the outsole and midsole that are engineered to prevent over-pronation. You’ll be able to look at the shape of the insole and determine if it will support your flat arches. And you can rest easy knowing that you have provided a stable foundation for your body and good health for your feet.