Dr. Allan Horowitz, published newspaper article, The Toronto Star, Copyright October 4, 1990

Now that autumn is here, it’s time for women to start complaining about mysterious foot, ankle, leg and back pains. Perfectly healthy women are waking up with cramps and muscle spasms in the back of their legs. Their feet are tired, their backs are sore and they may feel rotten enough to visit a doctor or chiropractor, only to discover they have the symptoms of “spring-autumn footwear variation syndrome.”

The patient may ask:” What should I wear on my feet? I can’t wear flat shoes when I go out dressed formally, can I? What about the running shoes I just bought for $200?”

Here are the causes of the seasonal pains. The shoes we wear are important in dictating the posture of our entire body. Shoes with 3-inch heels will tip the spine forward and, to maintain erect posture (and balance), the person must arch her back backward. The muscles at the back of the calf will be shortened because her heels have moved closer to the back of her calves. Then, when the shoes are removed, the calf muscles stretch and the back must stop arching backward.

Winter boots usually have a rigid heel and sole, which don’t allow for much movement of the foot inside the boot. The top of the boots usually also approach the calf, or at least come up above the ankle. This allows for poor ankle motion, which in turn puts more stress on the knee, hip and lower back. Then, all of a sudden, the boots are kicked off and the ankle must start moving again.

All of this doesn’t’ t sound too traumatic, but when multiple changes in a short period of time are attempted, pain may result. The fall and spring are when we usually use four or five pairs of footwear. A rainy Monday followed by a sunny Tuesday means rain boots followed by lightweight “regular” shoes. Wednesday means a business meeting where dress shoes or high heels may be worn. After work, we do tennis shoes for a quick game before the slippers are put on in the house. A bit of chilly weather on Thursday and Friday could men fur-lined boots. The weekend might be warm enough to wear sandals. As the weather forecasters keep us guessing, we keep our feet guessing.

The multitude of changes we put our lower bodies through is enough to be the cause of the mysterious syndrome seen every September and April. Here are a few tips that may prevent these problems from affecting you:

  • Try to keep the heels of all of your footwear the same height. If you must wear high heels to work, always wear heels of the same height. If your winter boots have no heel, try to buy the same type of rain boots, work boots, shoes, sandals and slippers.
  • If your work shoes are flexible leather, with lots of breathing room and a low-cut design, buy running shoes that are similar.
  • Be consistent in wearing only one or two pairs of shoes for most of the week.
  • If it snows, ear your winter boots to get where you are going, but one inside switch to the shoes you wear most of the day. If you wear running shoes most of the day, try to wear something similar at home.
  • If you have unexplained pains and you can’t understand why, look down and see what is covering your tootsies. Then look in the closet. If you see a wide array of styles you need look no further.