A patient came in to the office today with several questions about cross-country ski boots. She had a small bunion on her right foot, and mentioned that she replaced her old (rigid) boots to a newer, wider, more flexible style. Since the switch, her right foot has been feeling better, but after a couple of hours skiing, she noticed intense pain to the ball of her left foot! How can this be?
What cross-country ski boots are best for me?
FIT: The most important factor when determining shoe gear is getting the correct fit. For any shoe style, it is critical to try them on at the end of the day, and with the socks you intend to wear with the shoes or boots. Meaning, don’t try on ski boots on the way to work in the morning wearing dress socks, nylons or tights. First of all, your feet swell throughout the day; similarly to them swelling the more you ski. You will want a boot that fits well throughout the day, and is not too tight after skiing for an hour. Secondly, you will most likely be wearing thick wool or synthetic socks – wear these when selecting a boot! If not, the boot may be too tight once you have all your gear on to keep your feet warm.
STYLE: What type of skiing will you be doing: track or out-of-track? This means, will you be following the path, or going off of the path at times, and possibly some hills? Touring ski boots (for in track) tend to be more flexible. My patients with wider foot types tend to enjoy these. Metal-edge (out-of-track) boots are more rigid, and provide better support for turning. Both boots have torsional rigidity for turning and stopping, but there are slight differences between manufacturers. Grab the boot at the toes and at the heel and try to twist it, or ring it out like a rag. If it twists easily, this would be less rigid and depending on your foot type, can cause pain. With a more flexible shoe, the intrinsic muscles in your foot (or the smaller muscles that start and end in your foot, as opposed to longer ones that start in your leg and become tendons near the ankle before attaching to foot bones) may be overworked compared to what they are used to. Remember, your heel is not secured in cross-country skiing, and there is a lot of muscle contractions going on in your legs! This can cause fatigue and even pain. Also, the ligaments and tendons can get over stretched depending on the demand that they are facing – again, the severity depends on your foot type.
SO, “HOW DO I MAKE MY SKI BOOTS MORE COMFORTABLE?” Make sure you have the correct size. If they are too small, they will squeeze and hurt. If they are too large, you will lose control, and you can get irritation from the increased movement, and jamming of the toes. Wear the correct socks when you try the boots on, and when you are actually using them! If pain develops at your bunion, the boot may be too small, or too rigid. If you then develop pain in the ball of your foot, similar to my patient, your boot may be too flexible. A custom orthotic can help decrease the flexibility. Accommodations can be made to take stress off of your bunion. Also, padding can be used to take pressure off of the ball of the foot. If you have burning there, or shooting sensations to your toes where it feels like you have a pebble in your boot, you may have a condition developing called Morton’s Neuroma which can be cured with the correct adjustments.
BUT I STILL LIKE THE OTHER ONES: So you like the flexible ones, but they hurt your feet. Or, you like the rigid ones, but they squish your toes. Depending on the architecture of your foot, you may need some accommodations (taping, padding, over the counter inserts, custom orthotics). There is always middle ground to be had – and it isn’t always as simple to buy something off of the shelf. Think how many different feet are slipped into the same shoe or boot. Also, the metal edge skis tend to be heavier, which can increase your work out, but demand a more rigid boot to aid in turning. So, if you need this style boot, I would be happy to make it more comfortable for you. Come on in and schedule an appointment with me and we will put you in a good situation. Call 414-257-0676 to schedule your appointment today!