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The Agony of d’Feet

by Clare Coppa

Foot problems plague the sedentary as well as the athletic, gourmands as well as gourmets. Age, obesity, and non-exercise are factors, but the biggest problem is that most people neglect their feet.

“Less than five percent of the population has ever seen a podiatrist,” said Tom Brunick, a member of ASTM Subcommittee F08.54 on Athletic Footwear. Ankle-deep in athletic footwear testing and design since 1976, Brunick is director of Advanced Concepts, American Sporting Goods, Naperville, Ill.

“The feet are the foundation of the body,” he said from a footwear lab at North Central College in Naperville. “Yet in America, most people have never really had a good foot exam. So most people turn to shoes as a way to deal with their foot discomfort.”

“It’s mostly a problem-oriented situation,” explained Bruce G. Greenfield, DPM, chief of Podiatric Surgery, Delaware County Memorial Hospital, Drexel Hill, Pa. “You go when you have pain.

“Some people have problems with their feet and don’t realize that your feet aren’t supposed to hurt,” he said from his Havertown, Pa., office. “A lot of times people go for years without getting treatment. By the time they finally get treated, it’s worse. It’s been there for a long time. It’s arthritis, or chronic tendonitis, problems like that.”

From drugstore shoe-inserts under $20 to infomercial orthotics at $200, Brunick’s consumer-wear testing indicates that most people self-medicate their feet without consulting a doctor. “Now if we said that about teeth, about eyes, about ears, everybody would be shocked by that,” Brunick averred. “If you think about it statistically, more people have foot problems than eye problems in America today. It’s the most self-medicated part of the body.”

Working as a consumer advocate, Brunick spreads his footwear expertise like a sneakered octopus, touching the medical community, retailers, and consumers. He shares test data at lectures with podiatry associations and medical colleges around the world. He educates retailers about fitting. He is a consultant for pro-sports teams. A former footwear editor of Runners World for ten years, he is footwear editor for Bergmann Orthotic Labs, Northfield, Ill., and consultant/contributor to Tennis Magazine. With ASTM Committee F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities, he assists in the development of voluntary consensus standards that promote optimum design and manufacture of athletic footwear.

Make an educated purchase, Brunick advised. “Your old shoes have a story to tell and you should bring them in when you go to buy a new pair,” he said. “Because a good shoe fitter will look at your old shoes and look at your insoles and how you carry pressure through your gait. They’ll look at the upper of the shoe and if it breaks down in any particular place. They’ll look at the outsole-wear patterns. And then they can actually show you some shoes that would match up to what you seem to need in a shoe.

“The problem is that most people that come in don’t bring their old shoes; don’t know their functional foot type because they’ve never been to a podiatrist or a medical professional and have never had a foot screening,” he concluded. “They’re just going to buy a shoe [based] on either who advertised the most, or the color, or because their friend likes the shoe. And that’s when people get into problems.”

Copyright 2002, ASTM