Avoiding Foot Pain: How well do your shoes fit?

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Shoes that fit properly help you do the things you enjoy. They provide comfort and improve performance. Statistics show that 80 percent of foot pain is due to the improper fitting of shoes. Many conditions, such as bunions, hammertoes, heel pain and ingrown toenails, as well as corns and calluses, can be caused and exasperated by shoes that are not fitted properly. There are even specialists, called pedorthists, who specialize in the proper fitting of shoes, as well as prescription footwear.  Steps can be taken to avoid foot pain and keep your feet healthy. Here are 10 tips to help you select the shoes that are right for your feet:

1. When you shop, have your feet measured—both of them. Feet naturally widen and lengthen with use, which means foot size changes over the course of a day and a lifetime, depending on activities and age. Also, for most people, one foot is slightly larger than the other, so judge fit by your larger foot.

2. Remember, shoe sizes are not standard. They vary among brands and styles, so a shoe labeled 8 1/2 by one manufacturer could fit like an 8 or a 9 from another maker. Try different ranges in size, and seek advice from store personnel trained to know fitting techniques, shoe brands and characteristics.

3. Select shoes that conform as nearly as possible to the shape of your foot. So you know what to look for, trace your foot on a piece of paper. Hold the tracing against the sole of a shoe. If the shapes are similar, you’re on the right track.

4. Choose shoes that are appropriate for the activity and the time you perform the activity. For example, if your job involves standing for long periods of time, shop for work shoes right after work. Shop for exercise shoes as close to your workout time as possible.

5. Stand during the fitting process and check that there is adequate space (3/8″ to 1/2″) between your longest toe and the end of each shoe. The foot elongates during walking or running, so it needs extra space. Also, remember that for some people, the longest toe is the second or third toe.

6. Be sure the ball—or widest part—of the foot fits comfortably into the widest part of the shoe. This match means the shoe will bend where your foot flexes, which will give you the greatest amount of comfort.

7. Don’t purchase shoes that fit too tightly, expecting them to stretch after you have broken them in. A shoe should feel comfortable at the try-on stage. Shoes are generally designed to hold a shape, not to reform themselves to your foot.

8. Your heel should fit comfortably in the shoe with a minimal amount of slippage.
It is impossible to avoid heel slippage completely, because the foot stretches forward and backward during every step; you need enough heel room to accommodate your natural step pattern. 

9. Walk in the shoe to make sure it feels comfortable. You don’t have to go around the block; take at least 10 steps back and forth on the fitting room floor.

10. Remember that orthotics or inserts can affect the size and fit of a shoe. Any kind of shoe insert takes up space intended for the foot; if you wear orthotics, you will need a roomier shoe, or the orthotics won’t fit properly. It is helpful when considering an orthotic for a shoe to remove the insert that comes with the shoe. Generally, they are removable.

Shoes that are too tight or too narrow, as well as those that are too wide, may cause foot pain. Foot pain while you walk or wear shoes is not normal, and one should consult one’s doctor if pain persists.     

Jean Archer, M.D., is a podiatrist based in Jamaica. N.Y. She can be reached at 718-264-1111.