The first pair of golf shoes I was proud to own were the first Tiger Woods Golf shoes - I believe they were the Nike Air Zoom TW. I can remember saving my money up for months to give to my brother who worked at a local shoe store and could put a pair on reserve for me and get me a little family discount. I vividly remember him bringing these black shoes home and me asking my mom to rush me to the Par 3 course a few towns over to test them out. I laced them up, slipped my feet in and distinctly remember the feeling of my toes being crammed together like sardines.
I didn’t even take them for a spin that day. I knew enough that I needed a size up. Except the same exact thing happened, and this time there was plenty of room at the end for my toes, but my toes were still smashed together. The toe box was clearly too narrow. But, I decided I would keep these slightly too large shoes and grow into them. The problem being that my feet would grow longer and wider, but there was no room for them to get wider. Still, I trudged on.
After about 6 weeks, and 8 wears, my heels were killing me. I hadn’t changed my other daily activities. I was still playing hours of basketball every day in the same shoes as I had been. I didn’t change anything actually, except my golf shoes. I had been playing golf in a typical cross-training/basketball style shoe when I decided to make the switch to the Nike Air Zoom TW. The change in shoes which resulted in altered mechanics of my feet, had caused Plantar Fasciitis.
Your golf shoes should be considered one of the most important pieces of equipment you own. You use them for every shot you take - barring an unfortunate mishap with a water hazard. For years, you have likely been stuffing your feet into work and golf shoes that cram your toes together, resulting in altered mechanics of your toes and ankles. You may not even feel like your toes are ‘crammed’ together, but the space that your toes need to spread out and function properly is greater than what is available in most shoes that feel like they have sufficient space for your toes.
Unfortunately, the first thing people usually do when they wake up, put their foot down on the floor and scream out in the familiar pain of plantar fasciitis is go to the Podiatrist/Physical Therapist/Chiropractor who wants to prescribe them $500 orthotics. There seems to be this perception in healthcare that because something is custom, or costs more, that it must be better. However, there has been decent amounts of research done on these orthotics, and it turns out that they are only as effective, if not less effective than off the rack, prefabricated orthotics. [1 http://fai.sagepub.com/content/20/4/214.short], [2 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003999309000677],That’s right, the $30 pair of orthotics has been shown to work the same if not better than the million dollar custom orthotic with GPS and wifi.
However, I am not inherently opposed to going to going Podiatrists/Physical Therapists/Chiropractors when you are in pain (after all I am a physical therapist), but I think that there are much better options. The first would be assessing what has changed in your environment lately. Are you walking or running more or less than usual in your everyday life? Did you change footwear on the course or off? Did you change the surface that you are running on? These are all changes in your life than can affect how your feet feel.
As I told you earlier, squeezing my wide feet into shoes that made my toes bunch up resulted in heel pain because the stresses that my foot and calf muscles experienced were too high for the tendons/fascia to withstand. There was not enough room for my toes to move and spread, and accept the weight shifting required in the golf swing. I have also experienced this same pain when I was training for my first half marathon and upped my mileage significantly without being strong enough or having good enough form to do so. Both of these scenarios were placing increased stresses on my plantar fascia.
So have any of these things changed in your life? If you do walk or run for cardiovascular exercise, seeking out softer surfaces like treadmills or rubberized tracks can help prevent plantar fasciitis. If you are increasing a training variable (speed or total distance), use the 10% rule. Don’t up one variable more than 10% in a week, and definitely don’t increase both in the same week. Lastly, if you have changed shoes lately, you may want to think about ditching the ones that are causing you pain and looking for something with a wide toe box, and a minimal drop. Drop is the difference in height from the heel to the toe. The greater the drop, the shorter your calf is going to be when you take your feet out of them.
The best advice I can actually give you for picking out shoes for golf, for running, or even for everyday life, is to pick something that is truly comfortable. Not kind-of-comfortable, or comfortable enough; but actually comfortable. If you pay attention to how your feet actually feel in the shoes when you are trying them on you will be able to tell if the sole is too rigid, or the toe box or heel is too tight, or if the drop if too large. Even if you get orthotics that have potential to help your feet feel better, if you have to smash them into shoes that are still too narrow you may not get any relief.
I know your next question. I have been crowding my toes more tightly than the fans at Amen Corner on Master’s Sunday into poorly fitting golf shoes for years and my feet are killing me, what can I do? The first thing to do would be to get a semi firm ball and a foam roller. This is a shameless plug for the Forged Flexibility and Mobility Kit which includes both of these items, but they are in there for a reason. They are useful for helping with all types of ailments, including Plantar Fasciitis. The ball is to roll out the actual muscles and fascia of your foot. This will give the muscles some input that they can relax and stretch out. Be sure to get the balls of the foot, the arches, and the actual heel. When you roll out your arches make sure you roll up and down and side to side.
You are going to use the foam roller to roll out your calf next. This is made up of your gastroc and your soleus muscles. Just like rolling out your foot, the foam roller sends input into your body that the muscles should relax. This is best followed up with a calf stretch, and finally a heel raise from a curb or step. This allows your newly stretched muscles to go through their full lengths, and remain relaxed. You are reminding your body that it can stretch, shear, glide and slide into these ranges of motion that it may have forgotten because of some bad footwear.
[To see the drills watch the video above]
Having mobile ankles and feet is crucial for your golf swing. Not only to keep you out of pain while walking the course, but also to help you maintain your posture. If you are unable to dorsiflex your ankle well (being your foot towards your shin), it is likely that you will compensate in your swing by losing your posture in your backswing, resulting in going off plane, or creating lateral movement backwards or forwards.
If your feet are hurting or you want to prevent them from hurting, give those exercises a try, and be sure to seek out the most comfortable footwear you can for when you are on the course.