Walking into a shoe store with the intention of purchasing shoes that are good for your feet can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to walk out with a pair that is wrong for you. While most people typically start with a particular brand, style and price in mind, what’s most important is protecting your feet from damage that can accrue over years of wearing the wrong shoes. Anyone who has experienced foot pain such as that caused by neuroma, bunions or hammer toes knows how debilitating and discouraging these common foot problems are. Wearing the wrong shoes for the wrong activities can also lead to ankle and leg problems and pain that might eventually require surgery. One of the easiest ways to prevent these types of foot problems is by becoming an informed consumer when it comes to buying shoes.

Go to the physical shoe store instead of shopping online and check to see where the shoe bends.

Over the years, I have seen that the majority of foot problems come back to this single issue, and it comes down to support. A good shoe shouldn’t bend between the ball of the foot and the heel. This area of the shoe is called the shank. Whether it’s a tennis shoe, dress shoe, heel or sandal, the shank should be rigid and only bend at the toe, not the middle of the shoe. The big toe joint is meant to carry most of the weight during walking. If the big toe does not carry this weight, the load is transferred to other portions of the foot. This may eventually cause foot pain and problems. Buying a supportive shoe helps that problem.

Before buying a shoe, I recommend testing it to see if it bends by placing one hand on the heel, one on the toe box and trying to bend the shoe, or holding the heel in place and pressing the toe down on the floor. If it collapses, it is too flexible and will not support your foot correctly. I recommend buying shoes in person rather than online for this reason.

Avoid narrow toe boxes.

The front of the shoe should be wide, rather than pointed or narrow, particularly on dress shoes for women. Most women have a narrow heel and a wider forefoot, and a pointed tow or narrow toe box could cause bunions, hammer toe, ingrown nails and other problems. For men, wing-tip shoes tend to be a little narrow in the toe box, so look for shoes that are wider in the front. This does not mean purchasing a size wide (W) shoe, but finding one with room, both side to side and top to bottom, is important. Pay attention, also, to the amount of friction on the top of the toes. Shoes should not be tight. If they are, change shoes or consider using a shoe stretcher. Contrary to popular belief, arch support is more a matter of personal comfort and preference rather than medical significance.

If you wear heels, wear low ones, less often and stretch regularly.

Of course, the higher the heel, the higher the risk level of developing foot problems because there is more pressure on the ball of the foot. Regularly wearing high-heeled, pointed-toe shoes can cause Morton's neuroma, or scar tissue around the nerve, which leads to sharp pain. Wearing heels that are 1.5 inches or lower will help to prevent this condition. Additionally, wearing heels less often, say two days a week instead of five, will also help with prevention. Other problems associated with heels are ankle sprains due to instability, as well as a long-term shortening of the Achilles tendon. Doing regular stretching to lengthen that muscle, and doing heel cord stretching, can counter the ill effects of wearing high heels.

Choose your athletic shoes wisely. Athletes should purchase multiple pairs if they can afford it.

I tell my patients this: Brand names don’t matter when it comes to athletic shoes. What does matter is fit, stability and — for serious athletes — having multiple pairs. I worked with a runner who regularly ran marathons. She developed plantar fasciitis and wasn’t sure of the cause. We discovered that she had bought the same four pairs of shoes (same brand, style and size). But while three pairs didn’t bother her, one aggravated her feet when she wore them. It turned out this pair had a flexible shank, while the others had stiff shanks. This goes to show that every shoe company makes some good shoes, and some shoes that are less than ideal. So, consumers should test each shoe before purchasing and not base their purchase on brand name alone. Also, shoes brands claiming extra air pockets help with performance are generally just creating marketing hype.

For serious athletes, I recommend buying two pairs of running shoes, especially if you sweat excessively and if you can afford it. Shoes need time to dry between uses and will also last longer, so for high-performance sports, it’s best to have shoes for practices versus game days. Time of day for buying shoes also matters because our feet swell different amounts as the day goes on. Buying shoes in the afternoon means they will fit properly for workouts. 

While rest, ice and medication could help alleviate some types of foot pain, the best treatment comes after finding the cause of your symptoms. You may just need to look down to find the problem.

Podiatry Care in Southeastern Wisconsin

Learn More

Topics & Tags:

Add new comment