Researchers Study Women's Feet
WASHINGTON (AP) - Many shoe
manufacturers don't know what a woman's foot is really like, and those that do
know aren't telling, a researcher says.
Sports shoes are the most
likely to be designed to conform to the anatomy of a woman's foot, said
researcher Peter J. Cavanagh of Penn State University. Even here, however,
there's no way to be sure that companies which studied women's feet incorporate
everything they have learned, he said.
"Few manufacturers have
looked at this in great detail," Cavanagh said.
Most shoemakers base women's
shoes on a last, the form on which the shoe is made, that is a scaled-down
version of a men's last, he said.
Women are not men with smaller
feet, Cavanagh said. Some major makers of sports shoes have measured differences
in men's and women's feet. But the companies don't publish their data, so
there's no way to tell how much they know, he said.
Cavanagh and graduate student
Roshna E. Wunderlich examined data on the anatomy of men's and women's feet.
Their findings are reported in the April issue of the American College of Sports
Medicine journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. It's the first
journal article to publicly list sex differences in feet, Cavanagh said.
The data came from an Army
examination of the feet of 293 men and 491 women. While the data on each sex
were examined separately, and used to help design Army boots, differences
between the sexes were not analyzed before, the report said.
Women have smaller feet than
men - a fact that's long been known. But even holding foot length constant,
statistically giving men and women the same shoe size, there were anatomical
differences, the researchers found.
Women have thicker ankles and
calves, higher arches and narrower heels, Cavanagh said. "A woman with the
standard foot size common to men and women would have about three quarters of an
inch greater calf circumference, and that would be about a quarter of an inch
higher," he said. "That is pretty much, if you have a narrow-fitting
Also, women's ankles are about
one-quarter inch closer to the ground, and men's big toes are a little thicker,
Such differences in anatomy
could throw off the fit even in a shoe that is the right size based on length,
but a woman might not realize what the problem was, Cavanagh said.
The anatomical differences
could be one factor in the epidemic of cramped, pinched feet that stalks women,
Cavanagh said. "In our society, women generally choose shoes that are not
good for their feet to walk around in on a daily basis," he said.
One study found almost 90
percent of women were wearing shoes that were smaller than their feet, by an
average of one half inch, he said.
Other factors account for most
of the bad fit problem, however. One is style - women's shoes tend to be narrow
in the forefoot, cramping the toes and causing bunions, Cavanagh said. Women
commonly complain that their shoes are too loose in the heel, he said. So a shoe
that fits in the back of the foot might be too tight in the front, he said.
Foot doctors know this because
they see the results. "It's a sore point because, as a practitioner, such a
large proportion of problems we see are clearly related to improper shoe
wear," said Dr. Gail P. Dalton of Atlanta, who chairs the shoe wear
committee of the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. Matching the shape
of the shoe to the shape of the foot would cut the number of injuries, she said.
It would be a public service
if the bigger sports shoe companies would make their anatomical data public so
other manufacturers could use it, Cavanagh said.
Companies are loathe to do
that. They figure they paid for what they know, they get a competitive advantage
from it, and they will keep it.
"We do believe it is part
of our intellectual property," said Mario Lafortune, director of the Nike
sport research lab in Beaverton, Ore.
"We don't release it all
publicly, but all the research and findings are put into our shoes and the
evolution of our footwear," said Sharan Barbano, group director for women's
products at Reebok in Canton, Mass.
As a former world-competitive
runner, she knows what a difference the right shoe makes, Barbano said. When she
started running, in the late '70s, women had to run in men's shoes because
women's sports shoes were not available, Barbano said.
The companies say they base
continual improvements on their research. Cavanagh and Dalton counter that they
could prove it by revealing their data.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.