Healthy feet are an important component of physical well-being and independence. They ground us, keep us balanced and allow us to stay active – all of which reduce risk of injury and circulation problems, and keep our bones and muscles strong.
Keeping tender toes healthy requires dressing them in proper footwear. From walking shoes to high heels, finding footwear that is practical, stylish and comfortable can be a challenge.
Feet, along with the rest of us, change as we get older. The shoes that fit perfectly in youth are now painful reminders of age. In addition to increased swelling, physical changes in the structure of your feet can cause changes in shoe size.
Vancouver podiatrist Dr. Joseph Stern, B.Sc, D.P.M says, “The fat pad on the bottom of the foot can diminish or slide forward over time, resulting in discomfort on the bottom of the foot.” Thinning skin also causes feet to be more fragile. “The more fragile the skin, the easier to get cut and the longer it takes to heal,” he says.
Arthritis or former injuries such as torn or strained tendons result in changes in the shape of the foot and typically require a change in shoe size. Weakened foot muscles cause trips and falls to be more frequent necessitating a steady, wide, low-heeled shoe, replacing fashionable, high stilettos.
You may have heard the aches and pains of your joints and muscles talking to you, telling your body to slow down. It’s time to listen to what your feet have to say – to your shoes!
“Ouch! Squished toes!”
It should come as no surprise that the most common cause of feet injuries is a result of choosing the wrong shoe size. “Most patients fit their shoes too small, too narrow or too short,” says Dr. Stern.
To avoid making fitting mistakes, Dr. Stern suggests making a tracing of your foot and place the tracing beside the shoe to see if they match. “You should have about a thumb’s width from the longest toe to the end of your shoe. Otherwise, the toe will hit the end [of the shoe] and you’ll smash your toe nail so you’ll get black toe nails or toe nails will rub into your skin,” says Dr. Stern.
As the size and shape of your foot changes, so should your shoe size. “You want the shoe to be fitting your foot. So, if you have hammertoes, you want the toe box to be deeper. If you have a bunion, you want the toe area to be wider,” suggests Dr. Stern.
Leather and canvas are the best materials for letting feet breathe and have greater flexibility, allowing the shoe to bend with the foot.
Dr. Stern suggests shopping for a shoe with flexible material such as Xsensible. Made from stretchable leather that acts like a second skin, these shoes adapt to the unique shape of the foot and stretch with its natural movements. If your shoes still require adjustment, a specialty shop can stretch them for you.
“Ouch! Swelling feet!”
Slip-on shoes may seem convenient, but foot swelling can cause a great deal of discomfort. “With a slip-on, it has to be tight over the front of the shoe, and if you have a problem with swelling, your foot will swell over the top of the shoe and it will be too tight,” says Dr. Stern, who suggests wearing a lace-up or Velcro closure shoe that can adjust for swelling.
Elasticized laces are another great option for swelling feet. Even the time of day you shop for shoes can affect their fit. “You should buy your shoes at four o’clock in the afternoon because your foot is pretty much swollen by then,” suggests Dr. Stern.
“Ouch! Corns, Calluses and Blisters!”
Shoes that are too narrow cause rubbing, which can lead to corns and calluses – a buildup of thick, hardened or dead skin that typically forms on the bottom or sides of feet that, if left untreated, can become painful or infected.
To avoid corns, calluses and blisters, Dr. Stern recommends looking for brands that offer a wide size. When purchasing a jogging or walking shoe, make sure there are no prominent seams on the inside of the shoe that can cause rubbing.
“Ouch! Can’t these be broken in?”
Despite what retailers say, shoes don’t really break in. “By the time they break in, it’s going to be time to throw them away,” says Dr. Stern. Shoes should feel comfortable when you purchase them. The bottom line? If they don’t feel good in the store, don’t buy them.
“Ouch! Wobbly Heels!”
Dressing up your feet can be fun, but also painful and dangerous. Ideally, heels should be no higher than an inch and a half (3 cm) and should be as wide as your foot to keep ankles from twisting and your back from arching. Soles with a grip provide more stability and less risk of slips and falls. A wider heel ensures more surface contact with the ground, making your foot more stable than a stiletto. Wedges are also a safe option – and trendy too!