You pick out the right moisturizer for your skin type, conditioner for your hair type and clothes for your body type, but can you put your finger on your foot type?
From blisters to bunions, cramps to arthritis, chances are you’ve had some kind of foot pain in the past. (Let’s face it, your feet are probably killing you right now.) In a 10,000-steps-a-day-in-Louboutins world there are plenty of things to get your dogs barking. But you don’t have to take it lying down—or standing up, as it were.
New York City podiatrist and founder of Wellness Biomechanics Dennis Shavelson devised a “foot typing” system that identifies structural attributes that can make you more susceptible to different types of foot discomfort, so you can be prepared before they hit.
“Where before you had to have pain or a bunion before you’d go to the doctor, foot typing opens up an amazing avenue for correction and prevention,” says Dr. Shavelson.
He divides foot types into five categories based on the biomechanics of the front and back sections of the foot. The way your foot adapts its shape when you step down can affect where you’re likely to get blisters and what shoes will feel best, and it can lead to problems for your ankles, legs and back. For instance, if the muscles in one part of the foot are weak, oftentimes your calf will compensate, which can cause tightness. A leg massage might relieve the pain, but it’s only treating the symptom, not the cause.
Shavelson’s system—patented a year ago and practiced by 50 podiatrists around the country—identifies sources of weakness and strength, then uses customized orthotics to train foot muscles to deliver the best combination of support and stretch.
So what kind of feet do you have? Step forward and find out.
Rear Rigid/Front Flexible
The most common of the types, Rigid/Flexible feet are supportive at the heel and have good shock absorbers up front.
The signs: Rigid/Flexible folks are prone to heel pain, bunions and hammertoes. Calluses tend to form on the bottom of the big toe and under the second toe where it meets the foot. Because the front of the foot absorbs most of the shock from walking or running, shin splints as well as ankle, knee, hip and lower back pain can crop up.
You probably see wear on the soles of your shoes located on the outsides of the heel and under the first and second toes.
Best steps: Look for shoes that can accommodate a narrower heel and a wide forefoot (especially since it’s likely to get wider over time), or opt for open-backed mules or sandals.
A foot-centering shoe insert can do wonders. Shavelson says this foot type is his favorite because it’s strong in the back, but flexible in the front.
Rear Stable/Front Stable
This one is, you guessed it, the most stable. It’s generally healthy and comes closest to being a “normal” foot. Only marathon runners and five-inch-stiletto wearers are likely to step their stable/stable feet into a podiatrist’s office.
The signs: Your shoes might have moderately more wear in the heel than by the toes, a sign that everything’s going smoothly down on the ground. This foot type can wear basically any style without issue.
This is not a problematic foot type, notes Shavelson. Calluses aren’t much of a concern, though shoes that are tight and low around the toes can cause corns on occasion.
Best steps: You probably don’t need orthotics unless they’re stressed from a ton of exercise or excessive weight—in which case the right diet will mean a lot more than the right pair of kicks.
Rear Rigid/Front Rigid
The rigid/rigid foot features a high arch and barely changes shape when you put weight on it. The bones and ligaments are naturally tight, which is great for support, but doesn’t absorb shock well.
The signs: Since rigid feet do a poor job absorbing shock, the burden flows up to your knees, hips and lower back. This can lead to arthritis, tendonitis and sprained ankles. Toes may start to hammer and get corns on their tops. Meanwhile, calluses can form under the foot at the biggest and littlest piggies.
Best steps: Good luck trying to squeeze these tough puppies into ski boots. You want shoes with a high throat and ample toe space, since your stiff feet aren’t apt to bend to your style whims. Shock absorbing insoles can help do some of the work the foot’s not doing. And following stretching exercises for your foot might help loosen up tight muscles.
Rear Flexible/Front Flexible
Great when it comes to shock-absorption, but lacking in support, this foot type collapses under your weight and, if left to its own devices, could develop into full-on flat-footedness.
The signs: If the soles of your shoes show excessive wear on the inner heel and you tend to get calluses on the inside of your arch, you might be a double-flexy. Take heed! This could be a sign of progressive deterioration and irreversible collapse. Tired, weak feet can cause weak ankles, knocked knees, collapsed hips and swayback. Shavelson warns that these issues start at a young age and get worse as you get older.
Best steps: Get some orthotics—stat. Only aggressively supportive inserts can help you build up the strength you need to keep your feet from getting longer, wider and closer to the ground.
Rear Flat/Front Flat
No one is born with completely flat feet, says Shavelson, but once you develop them, there’s no going back.
The signs: Truly flat feet are weak and can’t support weight for very long. The bad news can spread through your ankles, knees, thighs, hips and lower back, too. Calluses can form just about across the entire foot, and you could suffer from hammertoes and corns. Cramps come easily to the flatfooted, and it’s hard to find shoes that work.
Best steps: When you work out, take a swim or do some time on the stationary bike rather than hitting the hard, unforgiving track. As far as relief goes, there’s not much to do for flat feet but to step onto some thick, cushiony insoles. (Note: This does not give you license to tell friends and coworkers that you’re “gellin’ like a felon.”) Wide shoes with a relatively flat heel are your best bet.
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