Balance is complex and requires different body systems in order to accomplish.
The three basic systems that make up balance are vestibular (inner ear), vision, and proprioception. Proprioception is the feeling we get from our muscles and joints that tells us where our body is in space without having to look at it. Proprioception is very important in our feet/ankles since our feet/ankles tell us where our body is relative to the floor. In addition to giving us proprioceptive information, our feet also form the structural base of our body. This base is important for our posture and overall alignment. Because our feet are so important, the shoes we put them in are also important.
Too Cushioned: Shoes that have excessive amounts of cushioning make it harder for our feet to feel the ground. Typically, people with balance problems feel best when walking on a firm surface but if your shoes are extremely soft, it can make that firm surface feel soft. Walking with really thick, soft shoes is almost like walking on a foam pad. This softness decreases the amount of information our feet can get from the ground and therefore makes us more unsteady.
Not Supportive: Our feet are the foundation for our body and our posture. If shoes do not have enough support, the arches of our feet can collapse inward and disrupt the alignment of all the joints above it. This misalignment can alter walking patterns, create pain, and/or cause more instability. The support in shoes can be modified to some extent by orthotics but it is always best to start with good shoes. Many shoes lose support as they are worn and it is best to replace old shoes when they start to lose their structure.
Narrow Toe Box Width: The toe box is the front part of your shoe where the ball of your foot and toes sit. Toe box width can vary greatly between types/brands of shoes. If this area is too narrow, it presses the toes together and limits our ability to use our toes to assist in balance. Toes are important for making small corrections to our balance when standing and walking. You can think about the foot like a tripod, with the toes making up the front two points of the tripod. The wider the tripod legs, the more stable the tripod will be. The same holds true for the foot.
Tread: Tread is the texture on the bottom of the shoe. Tread can vary greatly depending on the type of shoe, with shoes like hiking boots having the thickest tread. Tread is important because it allows for traction and grip on the ground. Tread becomes the most crucial during poor weather conditions including wet, snowy, or dusty conditions. A good tread can prevent slipping and falling during these less than ideal conditions. Similar to support, tread will wear down as a shoe ages and it is important to replace your shoes when the tread starts to wear away.
Heels: Shoes with heels will change the angle of your ankle and therefore affect the proprioceptive information you are getting from your ankle. Additionally, heels make it more likely that you will roll your ankle, especially if your ankles are unstable, which can potentially cause a fall.
Hazards: Even the best shoes can present a fall risk if you don’t wear them properly. Shoes should be fitted appropriately, with no shifting occurring while walking. This is especially important if shoes are slip-ons. Additionally, if shoes have laces, shoes should be appropriately laced and, ideally, double knotted to prevent tripping on them.
Now that you know more about how shoes can affect balance, take some time to think about the shoes currently in your closet. Evaluate the fit and feel of your shoes to ensure the best and safest options to wear.
If you have concerns about your balance, even in the proper shoe, the Balance Chicago Team is here to help you! For more information, or to schedule your appointment, give us a call or click the link above. We look forward to working with you soon!
Blog Written By: Dr. Kylie Reese Schmidlkofer, PT, DPT