As a few of my close friends and family know, I am currently in training to get myself through the arduous trek which is the Kokoda trail later this year. As part of this training I am being super vigilant in my footwear preparation (trying to practice what I preach!) and for this, I have spent the last couple of weekends checking out Melbourne’s hiking boot stores for some advice on what to wear. During the trialling of many boots (as someone who has worked in retail footwear before I really felt sorry for the poor sales assistant helping me!) I was spruiked the benefits of “arch supports” as I have been diagnosed with the crippling “over-pronation” by my new sales assistant friend.
Now those that have had the (mis)fortune of being supervised or taught by me know too well how I have real issue with the term “arch support” and I believe we should all try to banish this from our podiatry lexicon. I have been known to get a head of steam up about this poor use of terminology and despite having my own platform here to really settle in and go full scale I will try to keep my thoughts brief.
Firstly, I have heard podiatrists, physiotherapists, doctors and surgeons all guilty of using the term, and I am not immune. Really, it is the best piece of branding and marketing that anyone can come up with. Who wouldn’t want more “arch support”? Daily I hear that someone needs some arch support as they have flat feet, and then the next person needs arch support because they have high arches.. I have hairdressers who need arch support as they stand on their feet all day, and then desk-bound pencil pushers who need arch support as they spend their day sitting with little time for exercise. With a catch all term like “arch support” this branding leaves all of us wanting more, but not actually explaining what it actually is, or how we think that they can possible work? Surely the above list of people do not have the same feet? Or the same needs for “arch support”?
Now there are probably a few of my colleagues getting a little steamed up, as selling “arch supports” has become a lucrative exercise for many scrupulous and the not-many unscrupulous health practitioners and footwear retailers out there. Also there is certainly an army of very, very happy customers walking around pain free with their “arch supports” doing exactly as promised. Where my concerns with the term come in is that by dumbing down the sell of “arch supports” we are missing an opportunity to further understand and most importantly teach our happy clients about their individual foot function and areas at risk of pathology should they push out of their happy place and into the danger zone.
Now back to my hiking boot shopping experience and my poor exasperated shop assistant. After being diagnosed with “over-pronation” and advised to get some “arch supports” I was reminded of an investing story from the great depression that hit after the wall st crash of 1929. The story goes that the day before the big crash, american investment historian Cecil Roberts was advised by his barber to buy Standard Gas stocks, as his barber had done so and they had doubled, and good for another double. Apparently Cecil used this as motivation to get out of the game and subsequently avoided the damage of the wall street crash. Similarly, as reported by the barefoot investor Scott Pape, recently a local Chinese teacher from Nanjing had taken a loan to invest on the advice of her hairdresser, only for the bottom to fall out of her investment when the Chinese share market plummeted. These two stories parallel my new found diagnosis of overpronation and requirement for “arch supports” from my shoe salesman. While investment in stocks is a sound long term plan, and my snazzy yellow and black arch supports are very comfortable (thank-you sales person:), good quality expert advice is always the value bet, and even more valuable when times are tough financially, or pain is becoming more debilitating.
Addition and admission:
For those curious, yes I am trialling my new “arch supports” from the Melbourne hiking boot store, and yes, they are comfortable. My severe diagnosis of overpronation appears to be in remission and I will walk again.
For the even more curious, my “arch supports” are not actually supporting my arch, rather they are changing the timing and direction of the “ground-reaction-force” (the force which pushes back against our feet from the ground every time we take a step). The material of the device also contours more of my foot which is shown to change the proprioceptive feedback (the signals which tells our brain what our body is doing). Overall, the device when combined with my specific foot structure and neuromuscular control work together to keep my feet within their happy place.
It must be said that they are not as effective at doing this as my custom made orthotic from my expert podiatrist (and manufactured by the best orthotic laboratory in Melbourne, Footwork).
So next time you’re shopping for footwear, and you are diagnosed as an overpronator (or heaven forbid) a supinator! Feel free to try an “arch support”. For extra fun, ask the shop assistant to explain how this magic device will support your arch, your hairdressers arch, your accountants arch, the arch de triomphe or any other arch out there.
Just remember there are experts at Pride Podiatry who will make sure that whatever activities you are doing, we will help you find your happy place and get you out of the danger zone. If that means you use an off the shelf orthotic, or a custom orthotic designed by your Pride Podiatrist and manufactured by Footwork laboratory then so be it. The best result available will include getting you back into your happy place, and also increasing the size of your happy place to reduce your chances of entering the danger zone. This means a little exercise for those keen to proceed, and definitely a topic for another day.
And one final challenge to podiatrists and other health professionals.. Avoid saying the words “arch support” in your practice for 1 week. It will be hard at first but your client education and thus patient satisfaction will improve out of sight.