Are You Wearing the Right Shoes?
As we get older, we begin to lose the ability to do things we did when we were younger without consequences.
One of those is walking around barefoot or in flip-flops or similar kinds of non-supportive footwear.
Our primary care doctors often see patients with different types of foot issues or pain, but when we suggest their shoes might be to blame, we hear some version of, “But doctor, this is what I’ve always worn!”
So let us explain why that may not be working for you anymore, and why you need to at least think about trying a different shoe.
Problems from footwear
No matter your age, poor footwear can cause a host of problems. Athletes know that the right shoes can make all the difference in their performance, but the rest of us often choose shoes for their style or popularity, or simply out of habit.
Two of the worst shoes you can wear are opposites of each other: high heels and flip-flops.
High heels shift your weight forward unnaturally, not only putting you at risk of such foot problems as hammertoes, corns, and bunions but also throwing your back and pelvis out of alignment. This can eventually lead to the chronic low back, hip, and knee pain.
Flip-flops, on the other hand, along with other cheaply made footwear, don’t provide arch support or shock absorption. And because feet naturally flatten out and lose their natural cushioning with age, we need more support and padding to prevent pain.
Finally, ill-fitting footwear can make people less active. Because regular physical activity helps prevent everything from diabetes to heart disease, simply wearing the wrong shoe can impact other aspects of your overall health.
Many people don’t realize that their feet become larger as they age. From your twenties to your sixties, your shoe size can change a full size or more as your feet spread. This means many of us are still cramming our feet into shoes that don’t fit well.
On the other hand, if shoes are too large, they can cause blisters or falls. The latter is especially concerning for older adults because falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations and deaths among seniors. Wearing shoes with rubber tread and a proper fit can help prevent falls.
The time of day you shop can also make a difference in fit because feet swell as the day wears on. So shoes you bought in the morning might be too tight for comfort by mid-to-late afternoon.
How to shop for the right shoes
Because each person has different needs from their footwear, as well as health issues unique to them, it’s difficult to recommend a certain type of shoe for everyone. Those with diabetes or osteoarthritis, for example, will require a different shoe from someone who plays tennis three times a week.
But, in general, here are a few buying tips from Harvard Medical School on how to find the right shoes.
- Take a tracing of your feet when buying shoes. Put shoes you’re thinking of buying on top of the tracing. If the shoe is narrower or shorter than the tracing, don’t bother to try it on.
- Have a salesperson measure both of your feet every time you buy new shoes. If one foot is larger than the other, buy the size that fits that larger foot.
- Stand in the shoes and press gently on the toe box. Make sure you have about a half-inch of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. This provides enough room for your feet to press forward as you walk. Also, be sure you can wiggle your toes comfortably.
- Walk around in the shoes to see how they feel. Do the heels fit snugly, or do they pinch or slip off as you walk? Don’t convince yourself they just need to be “broken in.” Buy the right fit at the start. Try to walk on hard surfaces as well as carpet to see how the shoe feels on both.
- Pay attention to width as well as length. If the ball of your foot feels compressed in a particular shoe, ask if it comes in a wider size. Don’t try to solve the problem by buying a larger size. Go for a wider size, instead.
- Trust your own comfort level rather than a shoe’s size, description, or advertising claims. Sizes vary between manufacturers. Feel the inside of the shoes to see if they have any tags or seams that might irritate your foot.
If your feet or back or knees hurt, there’s a good chance you’re in the wrong shoe. And if you have particular foot problems, such as diabetes, bunions, or plantar fasciitis, it might be a good idea to consult a podiatrist to get recommendations on the best shoes for your needs.