Saving Your Sole: Finding Comfortable Shoes
This fall semester marked the beginning of my senior year of college, and it’s bitter sweet to know I’m nearly at the end of my product design education. But I was delighted to learn that one of my design classes would focus on shoes. Finally, I thought to myself, a class where I can finally design a shoe that is both fashionable and pain free! I’ve done a lot of research, and have found a number of factors of why shoes can be painful for someone with psoriatic arthritis.
Turns out, the sole of the shoe is one of the biggest factors (but not the only factor) in whether a shoe is comfortable or not. We might not notice a heavy sole in the store, but boy! Is it noticeable when you’re dragging your feet at the end of a long day! Plus, shoes aren’t built like they use to, and the majority of shoes can’t be broken in anymore. Leather, suede, cork, and other natural materials can be broken in, but shoes made of rubber and plastic cannot be broken in after a few days of wear - they will only begin to shape to your foot when they begin to wear down.
To make your next shoe shopping… ahem, adventure… a success, I’ve given an overview of three materials for soles that seem to be the most favored by the people with chronic pain I know. I’ve omitted leather, simply because it is not financially possible for many. I also forewarn that my article is told from the point of view of a designer with chronic pain. I am not a doctor, and my article does not replace medical advice.
Rubber is heavy, and while it’s durable it’s not always the best choice for those of us with chronic pain and fatigue. The extra weight can cause pain and fatigue. And as if tiring you out wasn’t so bad, the rubber itself exhausts quickly so it doesn’t often hold up well over a day. Who knew? Rubber is still a great shoe material though, and it is necessary for many athletic shoes. When you’re not working out, choosing a pair of shoes that have an inner and outer sole made of a different material with a light rubber coating on the bottom is an excellent option that may be easier on your legs and feet. For dress shoes, both men and women can find leather soles with a light rubber base. Tieks is known for their leather and rubber sole, and while I’ve not worn them personally, I have heard they’re very comfortable.
Many people with psoriatic arthritis swear by Crocs and foam flip flops, and while some of us are not the biggest fans of the style, you cannot deny they’re comfortable. And why wouldn’t we? They hold your form and change with your body. Lots of people enjoy using a softer foam insole (either built into the shoe or inserted by you) in other shoes for extra cushion. Hard foam, like the one used for Crocs, is sometimes used in the outer soles of walking sneakers (with rubber traction on the bottom). I have a pair of Under Armor sneakers that are extremely light, yet nice and supportive.
Who would’ve thought cork inner and outer soles are a great option for chronic pain? Though it breathes and forms to the foot like leather, it’s more durable and comes cheaper. And while it’s pretty good at absorbing shock, cork infused with a bit of rubber is even more durable - which is great if you want a small heel! Some people swear by cork for their shoes, and I can attest that it’s very comfortable. You can even buy cork insoles to slide inside your regular shoes, if you want to give it a try.
There are lots of other materials for soles and insoles, but it would be impossible to cover them all. So I leave you with a brief overview of three great materials for shoes and their best applications. Of course, these options might not work for you. Maybe plastic sole works best for you, or gel insoles are the only thing that works. But you might be pleasantly surprised by something new! So have fun choosing different styles!
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