In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, Modern Management of the Older Adult division leader Dustin Jones discusses evidence based recommendations on shoe wear for older adults.
Take a listen to learn how to better serve this population of patients & athletes.
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01:43 DUSTIN JONES
Welcome folks to the PT on Ice daily show. My name is Dustin Jones and today is Wednesday where we’re going to be talking about all things older adults in particular. shoe recommendations for the older adult population. Shoe wrecks, heel drop, doesn’t matter, barefoot, minimal, conventional shoe, what the heck’s the deal with the toe box, what in the world is a shoe last, we’re gonna talk about all these things, what the evidence says, and then what we’re kind of seeing out in the real world, right? Many of us are seeing in clinical practice or in the context of fitness. Before we get into the goods, just a few quick announcements. Our online MMOA Modern Management of the Older Adult courses are going to be striking up here within the next couple weeks. So Essential Foundations, that is our foundational online eight-week course, is going to be starting October 11th. And then our Advanced Concepts course is going to be starting on October 12th. That’s just for folks that have taken Essential Foundations. We’ve got a bunch of live courses coming up through the fall across the country. The one that I really want to point your attention to is Falls Church, Virginia. That’s going to be the weekend of October 7th.
02:51 SHOE RECOMMENDATIONS
All right, shoe recs. This is a topic that I really enjoy digging into. I’ve got a decent amount of experience around shoes. I used to sell shoes right out the gate of PT school. I was working in outpatient PT clinic and then working in the first kind of barefoot style shoe store in the country. Two of his treads out of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, currently in Charlestown. And just had a lot of, made a lot of mistakes, learned a ton, met a lot of interesting folks that were in this space that were really challenging a lot of conceptions. around shoes and what is good for individuals. And I was very dogmatic at one point and I’ve kind of come to the middle a little bit in terms of what I perceive to be beneficial and the evidence is starting to show that as well.
03:55 THE OLDER ADULT FOOT
So when we talk about recommending shoes for older adults, I think the first thing that we need to acknowledge is that the foot is different in an older adult than when you’re younger, right? We see age-related changes typically in the older adult population that warrant us to really question the shoe that they’re in, right? The reality with the footwear industry is that many of the shoe lasts, lasts being the shape of the foot where they basically create the shoe from. The shape of that shoe last largely mimics what you may see in a younger individual, not necessarily the common things that we will see in older adults. What do we see in older adults? Typically, you’re going to see a larger circumference of their midfoot. larger circumference compared to when they were younger, you typically will see a lowering of that arch in many older adults. We often do see that the angle, the toe angles of that first and fifth toe typically do go in, which we’re well aware of all the issues associated with that. And we see these changes yet 99% of the shoes out in the market are looking at a younger foot and creating the shoe around that as opposed to an older adult individual. So we need to acknowledge these changes because that is what’s going to influence the current evidence-based recommendations. So what I’m going to go through is kind of what the current evidence says, the most recent systematic review looking at shoe recommendations for older adults, and then I want to dive into the whole minimal barefoot shoe versus conventional shoe debate, particularly for this population. So what do we know to be true in terms of some key characteristics of shoes that are gonna be helpful for older adults. One, and probably the biggest issue, is that it fits. I know it sounds super simple and silly, but if you check the fit of many of your patient’s shoes or your client’s shoes, you will see some very ill-fitting shoes. Whether it is the shoe is too big, there’s a lot of wiggle room, their foot is moving a lot within that shoe, or it’s the opposite, right? The shoe is way, way too tight for that individual, and that creates a whole host of issues related to skin breakdown related to performance breakdown as well. And so we want to be very aware that it fits well, all right? So that’s the first thing. Next thing is that it has fixation. A shoelace system, for example, we could say Velcro as well, but laces are typically better, is that if that shoe is properly fit and it’s fixated to that foot, that is going to allow them to do what they need to do when they need to do it, all right? The second thing, third thing is going to be a firm supportive heel counter. So I’ve got a shoe here. If you’re listening on the podcast, you can come to YouTube or Instagram to see the video. So this is just a Reebok Nano. I can’t remember the model of this one, but back here, you know, is a pretty solid heel counter. So it’s this back portion of the shoe. And so you want this to be firm and supportive. and snug when people put this on so you don’t want a ton of room around the heel with this heel counter you want to be nice and snug and that’s why trying shoes on is super super important. Next thing is around a 10 millimeter heel drop and this is where some of y’all are going to say no Dustin it needs to be just a zero drop shoe Current evidence shows that 10 millimeters around that range that older adults do really well there. If you start to go above that, particularly above 15 millimeters, you see an objective change in their balance performance through different outcome measures and their postural stability as well. If you’re not familiar with heel drop, it’s the difference of the thickness of the heel to the forefoot. This information can be hard to find on most websites when you go to look up shoe specs. That’s why you want to look up the reviews of that shoe. Typically, a running world, there’s a bunch of running related sites that will do all kinds of shoe reviews and they will give you some of those specific specs. When we worked at Two Rivers Treads, we would literally get a demo product and then we would cut the shoe right down the middle and we would measure the heel drop because a lot of those numbers weren’t being published. We found some really interesting things. What the trend in the heel drop realm You know, 20 years ago, it was very, very common to see heel drops north of 10. You know, you’d be going, you know, 14, 17, 18 range in a lot of running shoes in particular. And over the past 20 years, particularly the past 10 years, that that average has gone down and down and down to where it’s pretty normal to see a four to five millimeter drop from the heel to the front. That was not the case 20 years ago. So that has changed tremendously in the footwear industry. So around 10, excuse me, around a 10 millimeter heel drop. Next is a firm midfoot. So when we’re looking at kind of the sole that it is relatively firm, you will typically see firmness in the midfoot and the forefoot is going to, excuse me. All right now, the forefoot is going to be a little more flexible. That allows for, you know, terminal stance, that we have a lot of extension, big toe extension is a big one, but that midfoot, a kind of firm, medium thickness is a good thing for older adults. In terms of the traction, a slip resistant sole that’s multi-directional and tread. There’s not a lot of evidence to support, you know, super thick, aggressive tread like you would see in something like a trail shoe. but some tread that is going to allow them that slip resistance in several directions, not just anterior to posterior. The next thing that you are going to want to look at is the beveled heel and then a rocker angle. All right. So this is really important for older adults that you typically want to see around a 10 degree beveled heel. So towards the back of the shoe, when we’re going towards the very back of the heel, there’s kind of that upward curvature. So it’s not completely flat, but there’s a little upward tilt around 10 degrees is really great. This allows or decreases the amount of them kind of catching their heel, especially during that swing phase. On the other side of the shoe, the front of the shoe, we have our rocker angle. You also hear this referred to as a toe spring. Now, not the fact that there is a spring in the toe or the front of the shoe, it just references that upward slope that you will see towards the front of the shoe. around a 10 to 15 degree rocker angle or toe spring is really good for older adults. The reason being is that when you’re going into that terminal stance, you need a good bit of big toe extension, right? Some more ankle dorsiflexion as well. Usually you need about 45 to 65 degrees of big toe extension. And if you don’t have that or it is painful, then having that upward slope basically gives you some artificial big toe extension. It can be really helpful with walking, but particular activities that require a lot of big toe extension, think going uphill, think lunging or getting to and from the ground, that rocker angle is priceless. And then last but certainly not least, we want an anatomically shaped toe box and this has changed dramatically over the past 20 years as well that we typically saw the shoe last kind of curve inwards and now you’re starting to see that wider toe box to where the widest part of the shoe is almost towards the very end of the shoe or the front of the shoe. Now don’t mistake a wide toe box to be a loose fitting shoe, because you will have a little bit of room to wiggle your toes in a properly fitted toe box. But if you have good fixation, particularly around the waist or the middle of the shoe, it is not a problem to have some wiggle room in the toe box. So we’re talking length, but we’re also talking width as well. so that is really important so when you look at all these characteristics hopefully you’re starting to say oh my gosh that’s a lot to think about this is why it is so so important for two things one to have a good relationship with A local, particularly running stores are usually the best around town. If you have an awesome local running shop to where you can send your folks, they have a solid fit system and they have some solid recommendations that can meet some of these characteristics. you’re going to refer your folks and they’re going to be in good hands, right? But it’s also important to encourage folks to not just go to Amazon, to not just go and buy the shoe online, but you need to try this on. These characteristics, but then also that shoe feeling comfortable is very, very important. All right, so those are kind of the current recommendations. That is based on a systematic review that was released in 2019. I’ll drop the citation for that in particularly the Instagram post. I’ll do that there.
12:39 MINIMALIST SHOES: PROS & CONS
All right, now let’s shift gears a little bit and let’s talk about the whole minimal shoe, barefoot shoe versus conventional shoe debate. Once again, I will say I was so dogmatic about this. I was the guy that ran half of a marathon without any shoes whatsoever. And the first half I wore Vivo barefoot because we were running on gravel, right? Like I was that guy. I drank the Kool-Aid hard, um, and then learn some valuable lessons along the way. And I’ve changed my stance a little bit. I’d say a lot actually on this, but let’s talk about some of the pros and cons of particularly older adults wearing a barefoot style shoe. The first one is, there is evidence that a barefoot style shoe, when I say a barefoot style shoe, some of the key characteristics, typically it is a zero drop shoe. What I’m holding now is a Merrell Vapor Glove. I’ve bought three pairs a year of these things ever since they came out back in the day. I love these shoes. So it’s typically a zero drop, a very flexible sole. So if you’re not watching the video, I can roll it up like so. and it typically has a wide toe box. So the widest part of the shoe is going to be towards the front. That’s kind of the typical characteristics of kind of a minimal barefoot style shoe. It also has a very low stack height in terms of how high it is off of the ground. So there are a couple studies, particularly with older adults, looking at how that’s influenced some different parameters. And what they found is that when they wear a barefoot style shoe compared to a conventional style shoe, is that it does improve their postural sway. How does it do this, right? So think about the somatosensory input. You get a lot more input from that system whenever there’s less stuff between your foot and the ground. You also have a lower center of mass, which can be very helpful for balance. And also, without that heel slope or heel drop, it doesn’t shift your center of mass anteriorly. And so based on a couple studies, postural sway was improved significantly compared to conventional shoes when wearing those minimal shoes. So less sway, less postural deviation when folks were in static and dynamic situations.
15:07 CHANGES IN WALKING GAIT
The next thing is that when folks put on that barefoot style shoe, they adapt their walking gait, running gait as well, right? Like we’ll have the endurance crew talk about that all day, but I’m mainly talking about older adults in particular with walking. Their ambulation parameters will typically change. What we typically see is that we see a shortened stride length, we see an increased cadence with their walking, and the big one is that they have a decreased stance time. So they’re moving their feet a little bit quicker and their stance time is a little bit shorter. Now, this is really important because let’s think of if you have some type of external perturbation, you lose your balance. You try that ankle strategy, that hip strategy, it ain’t working. You got to do that step strategy. When you’re taking short strides, you have that increased cadence. When you have a relatively lower stance time, you are much more agile and adaptive to be able to take whatever stepping strategy you want to take. That is a big one, so that is a big reason why these barefoot style shoes can be helpful for older adults. What are the cons to wearing these with these individuals? One is that there’s hardly any rocker angle. If you look at the video, there’s a slight upslope for these shoes, but if you wear Xero shoes, Vivo barefoots, for example, you don’t see any upslope or rocker angle towards the toe. and very little support in that area. And if you have limited big toe extension, if you don’t have at least 45 degrees, for example, terminal stance of your gait is gonna be pretty tough, especially if you’re symptomatic at in-range big toe extension. So these rocker angles can be helpful for individuals, especially if they’re on uneven terrain, going uphill, limited big toe extension, they want that rocker angle. It’s helpful for them, get them in one, all right? Though also the cons are the zero drop for many individuals, that life requires some ankle dorsiflexion to navigate the world, especially if you are going uphill, stairs as well. If you don’t have hardly any ankle dorsiflexion, zero drop shoes are very difficult and what ends up happening is you end up shortening your stride even more. increasing your cadence even more, and ambulation can become less efficient. What that also does, especially when you’re going uphill, if you’re wearing a zero-drop shoe and you have limited ankle dorsiflexion, when you’re going uphill, you max out your dorsiflexion, you don’t have anywhere to go, so you start to see different deviations, and you also start to see a lot of pressure on the forefoot and the ball of the foot. If you have skin breakdown issues, neuropathy for example, this could have a whole host of complications. So there’s some drawbacks to having a zero drop shoe for particular individuals and we need to be very aware of that. Now with all that being said, I, this is me, Dustin, anecdotally speaking, I am definitely for most individuals to be in some type of minimal barefoot style shoe. I think by and large, for many of the things that we do throughout our lives, it’s a really good thing, but there’s a lot of times where you want a solid shoe, right? You want some stuff between your foot and the ground. You want some help with that big toe extension. You want some help with that ankle dorsiflexion. So when I’m thinking about recommending barefoot style shoes to older adults, I’m thinking about three main things. And this is kind of a checklist that I want you to think about.
18:28 PROTECTIVE SENSATION
One, and maybe the most important one, and this is probably one of the bigger mistakes that I’ve made in this realm, is that they need to have protective sensation. They need to have protective sensation. You need to get your monofilament out, your Seams 1C monofilament out. Check that protective sensation because if they do not have that, I highly recommend not recommending a barefoot style shoe because you will have lots of bumps, lots of bruises, stepping on gravel, you can create some trauma, if you will, and if they don’t have that protective sensation, they may not be aware, and most individuals are not regularly checking the bottom of their foot to see if they’re having any issues. I learned this one the hard way. I was treating someone that had type 2 diabetes and recommended, at the time, Altra, A-L-T-R-A, made a lot of barefoot style shoes, and I recommend the Altra Atom. You can look that up. It’s one of my favorite shoes and basically gave this person a foot ulcer from some of the trauma that they received over several, several days. So learn from that mistake. Number two, you want at least 45 degrees of big toe extension. That’s kind of the minimum for most individuals through ambulation, particularly through that terminal stance. So 45 degrees of big toe extension and also kind of symptom-free big toe extension. A lot of folks will have painful in-range big toe extension. So you need to be aware of that. If they don’t have that, then you want a shoe that has some bit of a rocker angle. And I’m not saying you go to some like maximal style shoe, but even a relatively, I wouldn’t call it nano, a minimal shoe, but the stack height isn’t anything crazy. The heel drops three to four millimeters from the back to the front. And it has somewhat of a rocker angle. Something like that could be helpful for individuals and not putting too much between their foot and the ground. And then last but not least, their ankle dorsiflexion. At least 10 degrees of ankle dorsiflexion. That’s kind of the minimum that we’re looking through throughout gait. They need more than that when they’re navigating uphill, when they’re trying to do squatting, for example. But that’s kind of the minimum. And I’d be very clear of when they want to wear these. When they’re doing activities that don’t require a lot of dorsiflexion or big toe extension, rock those barefoot shoes. But if you know you’re going to be getting to and from the ground a bunch, if you’re going to be guarding and kneeling, if you’re going to be doing a bunch of squatting and lunging, then you probably want a solid heel drop. You probably want a nice rocker angle to support some of those deficits. So, I know that’s a lot. I’m going to drop all these studies that I’m referencing in the comments of the Instagram post, but I think we need to be clear that we have evidence-based recommendations for older adults. I went through them at the beginning of this. I would say they’re rather somewhat outdated, especially as the evidence is starting to evolve of looking at some of these different styles of shoes. But we’re starting to see some early evidence supporting a minimal or barefoot style shoe in older adults. But we can’t just do a blanket recommendation. Everybody gets Vivo barefoot. Everybody gets Xero shoes. That’s not the case. We need to have that checklist, protective sensation, 45 degrees of big toe extension, 10 degrees of ankle dorsiflexion, and you’re probably going to put someone in a good position. All right. Thank y’all. Y’all have a lovely Wednesday. I’ll talk to you soon.
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