Vivian Grisogono

Teenage feet and shoes

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Should sports shoes be rigid for support?
Q: I am thinking of getting some new tennis shoes. I have been into my local tennis shops but most of the shoes are completely rigid. Is flexibility still very important? I always look for flexible shoes but as you probably know they are hard to find. A pair i quite liked were flexible at the front of the shoe but quite solid in the heel. If the heel is quite solid does it give you more support? I am asking this because i feel i need a bit more support from my shoes even though at the moment i am doing ankle exercises. Very flexible shoes i find don't have that much ankle support. What do you think?
Also, my toes have become very crooked. Do you have any idea why?
Male tennis player, 14, UK 
A: The major priority is to get shoes which are wide enough in the toe box and long enough to let your feet spread out when you walk, run and jump. You need to be able to wiggle your toes freely in the shoes, sideways and up and down. For tennis, shoes have to be flexible. You need to be able to pivot, twist and turn. To do these movements safely, you need to be able to feel the surface beneath your feet. Rigidness and thick soles can lead to injury. You don’t need the same kind of support in a tennis shoe that you do in running shoes. Look for flexibility, a good shape which follows the shape of the foot and a good fit with freedom for the foot to expand inside the shoe.

Don’t forget that you play tennis on many different surfaces, so you need different soles. Tennis shoes need to give enough grip to prevent you sliding all over the place, but not so much that you jar your legs as you change direction. On indoor carpet surfaces you need a totally smooth rubber sole: a contoured sole which grips can lead to knee problems. One way to test what sole you need is to hold your shoe in your hand and rub the sole along the court surface: if the sole judders and sticks, it has too much grip; if it skims, it has too little.

Your crooked toes may reflect two things: a) tension (curling toes up when stressed) and b) more avoidably, wearing shoes that are too tight round the toe box. When you choose new shoes for normal wear or sport, you should try to make sure that you have room to spread your toes out within the toe box,  - that is, if you want to have well-balanced feet to skip run and dance with! Your toes should not be snug in your shoes, and certainly should not touch the front end of the shoes when you are standing up.

Q.2. I agree with your theory that my shoes are too small. To be honest, i have been to lazy to change them because i thought i am not training so they weren't as important. What are your thoughts on wearing an insole? Would you advise me to use them in my tennis shoes?

A.2. Poor tootsies! Not fair to neglect them regardless of whatever else you might or might not be doing.

Of course you should have insoles in the shoes, preferably light and shock-absorbing, definitely not heavy or restrictive. Your insoles, like your shoes should allow your feet to work naturally. Neither shoes nor insoles can “correct” foot movements without risking causing injuries.

It’s very important to keep your feet as fit and pliable as possible. Barefoot exercise is excellent, especially in activities like karate, tae kwon do and tai chi.

Remember how hard your feet have to work, especially in pivoting, when you twist and turn in games like tennis. The big toe is especially adapted for a leading role, while the other toes create balance across the forefoot. If your weight is not properly spread over the forefoot when you stand, walk, run and jump, you create pressures on fine bones in your feet which aren't really strong enough to withstand them, so you risk injuries in the bones or joints. If your weight strays unnaturally to the outside of the foot (over-supination) you get abnormal stresses down the fibula (outer leg bone) and tightness along the shin, plus strain on the outside of the knee and compression on the inner side - not to mention the knock-on effect up to the hips. If you over-pronate, taking the weight unusually over the inner side of the foot, especially at the heel, you get stress on the shin and the inner side of the knee, and parallel effects up the rest of the leg.

The main point of all this is to be aware that your feet need to be kept fit, and to be happy in right-fitting shoes of the right kind for every activity. If they can work naturally, you shouldn't get any foot-related problems.