Monday, March 31, 2008

What is Your Orthotic Made Of? Viscork is our Choice

When I first began researching custom orthotic materials, I was looking for flexibility, durability and shock absorption. Though I was doing this research in the early 1990's (and the environment was not as trendy then), I felt that my materials should also be as environmentally safe as possible and result in a custom orthotic that would last a long time (rather than being "disposable").

I realized that foam and hard plastic or other reinforced rigid materials don't have the range of properties clients need in a custom orthotic. Those materials lose their shapes soon or sacrifice one quality for all others. Over-the-counter orthotics made of foam rarely outlast the life of a shoe. The foam compresses and looses it shape and shock absorption. Clinicians may try to remedy the faults of various orthotics materials by gluing a variety of products together, hoping for the best. It is an ineffective compromise at best.

Through years of research, trial and error I developed a material I sell called Viscork. Viscork orthotic material is a visco elastic polymer. Viscork is a unique combination of visco elastic polymer with cork granules. Cork is a renewable resource. Properties of Viscork replicate as closely as possible the natural protective tissues of the foot. Viscork absorbs shock and permanently maintains it's shape, therefore ensuring support for years. Clients often use their Viscork orthotics upwards of 5 to 7 years, longer than most people own their cars!

All of the orthotics we make at Footform Performance Labs are made using Viscork orthotics materials. If you represent a orthotics lab, contact us to buy Viscork for your custom orthotics production.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Gait Analysis: How Well are You Walking?

Watch a person walk down the street. Even from a distance you are making unconscious assumptions about their age, athleticism, and self confidence.

There are two main styles of walking:
  • The Leaning Tower: When a person leans forward and puts out a foot to catch themselves as they walk. They are using gravity to keep moving. Typically, when a person walks this way, their leg is straight and their hip joints are stiff, because their hip joint is being used like a hinge joint (like the knee) rather than as a ball and socket. The focus of the stride is on the beginning of the step. This is linked to hip problems, knee problems and lower back pain.
  • The Balanced Stride: When a person has a upright (centered) position over the stride. The knees are flexed (very slightly bent), the ankles bend, the hips (and core of the body) rotate with each step. The focus of the stride is on the finish of the step. Each joint is moving as it should, pain and future (or past) problems are minimized.
The non-verbal impression of the Leaning Tower Stride is old, non-athletic and lacking self-confidence. Your impression of the Balanced Stride is youthful, fit and confident.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Jimmy Choo is Not a Shoe

If you're a fashionista or within the range of one, you know what Jimmy Choo shoes are. They're sexy, stylish, elegant, expensive, glamorous beautiful things a woman can put on her feet. But just because something goes on the foot, doesn't mean it's really a shoe.

And designer footwear brands like Jimmy Choo know it. They are not selling comfort and support. They're selling something else entirely. (Though you may see a flat shoe from those brands as their concession to "comfort", it really isn't as most fashion "flats" don't offer support to the foot.)

So, am I saying you shouldn't wear designer women's shoes? No. Just don't wear them and then act surprised when your feet hurt. Human feet are not shaped to tiny points in the front with 4" heels in the back. Be reasonable. If you must wear designer dress shoes, limit the time you're going to wear them, and have a back-up pair of comfort shoes tucked into your handbag. That way, when your feet hurt, you won't push the pain into a lasting injury by continually wearing the wrong shoes.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Barefeet and Babies

"Our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch of our ancestors as we walk over this Earth."
~Chief Seattle, Duwamish Suquamish~

There was a time when bare feet or handmade footwear were the only options for our feet. And, as we all know, all of the earth is not soft sand or soil. Rocks, thorns and rough terrain make walking without shoes a daunting and often dangerous thing to do. The ancients knew this and made shoes out of both animal hides and plant products. The oldest intact shoes (a pair of sandals over 10,000 years old) in North America were found in a cave near my town of Bend, Oregon.

Times have changed. As natural as bare feet are, if you are walking outside, shoes are usually the right choice for the modern foot.

The exception to this statement is young children who are learning to walk. If the walking environment is safe and soft (such as a clean carpet or sandy beach), barefoot is the best for babies. Babies don't have arched feet. They need a lot of toe wiggle-room and a flexible soft surface that encourages their feet to move and to develop without artificial influence. Don't be fooled into thinking that a toddler's foot needs "support" with a stiff shoe/boot. Even a sandal is too much if it has a stiff sole. A stiff-soled toddler shoe is confining and clunky for a kid. Lifting the foot and turning in a stiff-soled shoe is hard for a toddler, promoting tripping and awkward balance.

The best shoe for a baby/toddler is a moccasin or similar type of shoe such as a flexible Aqua sock. Test a baby shoe by bending the sole between the toe and heel. The baby shoe should easily crumple and bend.

Monday, March 17, 2008

What is a Good, Supportive Shoe?

There is no correlation between price and support in the shoe world. A beautifully made shoe that doesn't fit well or isn't meant to offer support (like a women's high heel dress shoe or sandal) is not good for your feet no matter how "well-made" or expensive it is.

What is a supportive shoe? It's a shoe that puts most of your foot in contact with the ground (through the surface of the sole) while offering your foot protection from twisting, pounding, and strain. Here are the main things that make up a supportive shoe:
  • Wide solid platform for the sole.
  • The shoe has a heel counter - the stiff structure of the shoe surrounding your heel.
  • The heel is slightly elevated - approx 1/2" to 5/8"
  • The shoe has a primary bend point (or flexion point). This is at the ball of the foot. Hold the shoe between the toe and heel and bend it. Where it bends is the flexion point. If it's behind or ahead of where the ball of your foot is, it will stress your foot.
So what do you do with any gorgeous designer high heel shoes that kill your feet? They are beautiful objects, sculpture really, not fit for feet. Fill them with plaster and turn them into paperweights.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

If the Shoe Fits

How do you know if your shoe fits?

It may seem like this question has an obvious answer. Most people would say, "Because it feels good." The surprising answer to that is, "That's not enough." Sometimes how the shoe initially feels doesn't mean it's the right shoe for you. Surprised? Clients may say to me when describing a shoe they really like, "It feels like I'm wearing slippers." Forget about slippers. A shoe needs to support you as you walk on hard unforgiving surfaces all day. Slippers don't give you support. Neither do most women's dress shoes, but I'll talk about those types of shoes another day.

Today we are talking about sensible shoes like athletic shoes or a walking shoe (usually a model that ties and has a low heel). Here's how you know if the shoe fits.
  1. Get measured. No matter what you think your size is, get measured to be sure. Feet change over time.
  2. Put your bare foot (you can leave your sock on) next to the shoe before you put it on. Look at the front of the shoe and the shape of your foot. They should be similar.
  3. While you are sitting down, loosen the laces, put your foot in the shoe and cram your toes into the end of the shoe to check compatibility of your toe shape and the shoes toe shape.
  4. Ideally, all of your toes should contact the end of the shoe with equal pressure.
  5. Insert your index finger between the back of the shoe and your heel. (Remember, you're still sitting down.) If you can't get a finger in there when your toes are crammed to the front, go bigger in size.
If the front shape of the shoe matches the shape of your foot and you have enough room, you are on your way to finding a shoe that fits.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Can Orthotics Banish Back Pain?

Remember the children's song, Dem Bones, about the ankle bone connecting to the shin bone, the shin bone connecting to the knee bone, etc.? Whether the anatomy lesson in the song is accurate or not, it's an important reminder that everything in your body is connected to everything else. Every part of your body in some way affects the rest of your body.

So, can orthotics/insoles eliminate back pain? Maybe. This probably isn't the answer you're looking for, but it's the honest answer. Back pain can be caused by a myriad of things, so it would be highly unusual for one thing to cure it. Orthotics are not a cure-all. Orthotics are a tool. As much as they give you comfort and support, orthotics serve as a reminder to walk and stand properly.

Do you remember my best tips for orthotics success? Feet straight, bend your knees! So how does this help your back? Keeping your knee soft (slightly bent) during your entire stride enables your hips to rotate more easily. A flexible pelvis/hip region eases the lower back muscular tension that causes so many problems for people. Bending your knees and standing with your feet straight encourages your hips to move forwards (like a dog tucking it's tail) and puts the stress of standing mostly on the large muscles of your hips and thighs rather than the smaller muscles in your lower back that exhaust easily.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Getting Better and Better Feet First

You can improve your body. Your body's base is your feet.

I often have people ask me, "How do I know if I need help with my feet?" My answer is, "If it works don't fix it!" Why bother if you feel great? You need motivation to get better and (for many people) pain is the final motivator. Pain definitely gets your attention. But it's not the only motivator, you have to be interested in change. Then, you have to be willing to change.

Strangely, quite a few people are just fine with being miserable. Whatever their reason, they don't try to change their circumstances and for that reason will stay the same. Keep doing the same thing, you will keep getting the same result.

If you think you can't change, think again. Change happens, like it or not! You're not the same person you were fifteen years ago. You've changed. Practice good habits. Strive to make your changes positive not negative. Change is hard and breaking bad habits is harder.

So, if you've got some strain or pain and are motivated, interested, and willing to change, I'm happy to share this information with you. I like to use the term better and better because it depicts a dynamic progression. This is a great affirmation for improvement. Next time someone asks how you're doing, just say "better and better".