Footwear evolution over time in our life

Fun fact: The earliest use of protective coverings for the human foot — appears to start during the Middle Paleolithic period of approximately 40,000 years ago. Now footwear has evolved significantly since then and our footwear needs change throughout our lifetime.

As we are learning to walk as a toddler, it’s best to wear minimal footwear as the nerves are getting used to being upright and figuring out weight distribution in each foot,and step length as well as balance and how to manage distractions!

Then we go through life with many different shoes fit for purpose: sports shoes, work boots, ballet flats, gumboots, flippers!

Our footwear needs change with our lifestyle, work and health, so it’s important for us to be educated on how to best choose footwear to suit our needs and feet!

Why is footwear important for us, especially as we age?

Footwear helps us in many ways. We are living much longer than our ancestors which is wonderful but brings up issues like arthritis, and chronic diseases affecting the feet. We also now have man made surfaces that we are walking, working and standing on.

Generally footwear is important because when correctly and fitted chosen for its purpose, it helps prevent injury by improving foot and body posture.

  • supports natural circulation (closed in shoes help keep feet warm in winter)
  • can help you grip to surfaces that may be hot, cold or slippery.

What should we be looking for when looking to buy shoes?

Best to get a pen and paper to write down some things to look out for when buying shoes.

Adjustable fastenings– laces, Velcro, zips. These are important to be able to comfortably get the shoe on and off as well as keep it tight enough that it doesn’t slop around on your foot. Sloppy shoes are hard on your feet as your toes have to claw to keep them on- often resulting in sore muscles or imbalances causing pain.

Removeable inserts– the best quality shoes have removable inserts that you can replace or take out and insert a customised orthotic- it also shows there is enough room in the shoe and you’re less likely to get squashed feet. The exception to this is sandals; although more sandals are being released with removeable inserts now too!

Size– they need to be long enough for you to have a thumb space left at the end of the shoe- this is so that when you are mobilising in your shoes, your feet move forward and we don’t want your toes to knock against the end of the shoe causing bruising or sore toenails.

Width– width is a hard one to decipher in a shoe shop. I find it best to remove the insert of the shoe and stand on it. If your feet (or bunions) are grossly spilling over it, most likely the shoe is not wide enough for you. Now this can’t be the only test. You still need to try the shoe on, as you may find that once wearing the shoe, there is enough room. Comfort is important, and we shouldn’t have to wait for out footwear to ‘wear in’.

Heel counter– this is the very back of the shoe. Look for a firm heel counter that can’t be squashed too much if you push it in with your thumb. It needs to have reinforcement to keep its shape and provide support to the rear of the foot. The inclusion of a padded heel collar is great for comfort. When wearing the shoe, your heel should feel comfortable and conform around your heel comfortably. Sometimes there are awkward shaped heel counters, or they are narrow and too stiff and could rub.

Forefoot flexion: When you’re wearing the shoe, go up on your tippy toes- it should flex under the big toe joint to allow for natural movement. When the shoe is off your foot, bend it with your hands to ensure its easy enough to do and that your feet will be able to toe off and bend easily to walk naturally.

Torsional stability: Look for a shoe with a firm midsole(or middle underneath of the shoe) Make sure shoe last or reinforcement in mid section of shoe doesn’t collapse fully when you’re twisting the shoe. This ensures that when you twist or change directions quickly, your foot will be supported adequately by the footwear.

Contoured arch: Does the removable insert have a contoured arch? This can really help offset any inbalances and arthritic pain and redistribute weight correctly through the feet. This can be thought of as a free orthotic really!

Toebox: Is the toebox a Nice round shape and adequate width? Do The materials also allow for flexibility if a small amount of stretch is required. The Rounded toe box suitable for most peoples forefoot

Cushioning: Cushioning is the soft squishy bit in the sole of the shoe- also is the material around the heel and ankle to make a shoe soft and comfortable.  is the tongue of the shoe padded and sitting nice against your foot?

Other things to think about are:

Are they going to fit the brief for what you need? If it’s a hiking boot- best that it’s water resistant, which will make it heavier so you don’t necessarily need that is an walking shoe.

The Australian Podiatry Association actually have a rigorous endorsement process and we are finding many footwear brands are submitting their footwear for endorsement. Shoes that meet all these requirements will be endorsed. So look out for swing tags on shoes that say ‘Australian Podiatry Association approved’ as you can be sure that the footwear is of good quality.

How can we find something supportive for our feet, without wearing runners/trainers all the time? Are there any tips?

Go to a shoe store with many brands and types of shoes on offer. You may not be successful on your first trip. Take a list of things the shoe needs to have (the list that I’ve explained earlier) and check the shoes yourself. Look for ApodA endorsed footwear, that should give you indication that the footwear is appropriate and has passed all the testing.
If you’re still struggling to find appropriate footwear, don’t give up: many places may not have access to the best shoes for your feet. If this is the case, contact your local podiatrist and ask for advice. They may even stock some shoes for you to go and view/try on as well.


For a lot of women, wearing heels has become second nature, but as we age, we can find ourselves feeling things like calf pain, bunions etc – Why might that be? (why aren’t we used to heels)

Wearing high heels may make you feel taller and more beautiful. Maybe it’s an expectation for your job or lifestyle throughout your life. However, they may create several foot problems because they compromise the stability of the ankle and increase the risk of injury. When the toes are positioned downward, and heel higher than the toes, like in high heels, tremendous pressure is applied to the plantar (bottom) region of the forefoot. The higher the heel height, the more the pressure. It also exerts excessive strain on the back and lower limbs, which can have a significant impact on posture, walking, and balance. It’s not a natural or healthy way to walk.

Some of the most prevalent complaints include leg, back, and foot discomfort. Long-term usage can potentially create structural abnormalities in the foot, resulting in bunions, hammertoes, corns and calluses that may necessitate surgical intervention in the future if heel wearing continues for long periods of time

What is the risk if we don’t wear supportive footwear?

The risks very much depend on the individual and the environment. There are many times and situations that wearing barefeet wouldn’t negatively affect anyone’s health.

Discomforts like arthritis, bunions, corns, calluses and ingrown toenails can be caused by shoes that are ill fitting. Ill-fitting shoes can also cause Falls and trips, which can lead to more catastrophic injuries.

Take home point is keep an eye out for ApodA endorsed footwear. And that if you can’t find an appropriate shoe and you do suffer with chronic health concerns, it’s best to consult your local podiatrist to help teach you what footwear is best for you and where to find it.

Wed 7/6/23 9.45am. JESS NAUNTON- ABC radio.