Shoes that are too tight or too loose can cause rubbing on bones, joints or certain parts of your foot and this may lead to minor complications like blisters, corns, calluses and often results in pain and inflammation. Left untreated and over a longer term other issues can arise such as lesser toe (digits two to five) deformities, bunions and bone spurs.
The style of the shoe is the first thing people look at when buying shoes. Most people will pick a shoe based on whether it matches their outfit. Shoes should be bought for a main purpose whether it’s a summer sandal for weekend wear or activity based for hiking or sports.
Firstly know your foot shape! Do you have a narrow foot? Or a wide foot? Do your toes tend to spray outwards meaning you may need a shoe with a wider toe box? Most people know the story of Cinderella where all the maidens of the kingdom tried to fit their foot into the glass slipper. To make shoe shopping less frustrating knowing the shape of your foot is really important. Once you have an idea you can automatically ween out the ones that you know won’t fit without trying them on.
A trick we use in Podiatry is tracing the outline of our foot and cutting out the template then placing the template inside a shoe to see if the template fits. If the template is rolling up around the edges, likely the shape of the shoe is not right for you.
2. ARCH SUPPORT
The act of walking or running uses hundreds of muscles in the foot so without proper arch support, the muscles, tendons and ligaments can be become more easily overworked and fatigued. This can lead to inflammation and pain along the plantar fascia or pain in the heel. If you are working in a job where you are standing most of the day on hard flooring e.g. medical, nursing, warehouse, mining then having adequate arch support can prevent future degeneration of soft tissue in your feet. Have you ever gone out shopping and come home with a sore arch? Or are you a runner and run more than 5- 15km a week? The more time you spend in your shoes the more arch support is needed.
3. HEEL COUNTER
The heel counter is the area that shapes the back of the shoe where the heel sits. It is generally made of a piece of plastic that is embedded in the upper material of the shoe. It is important because it cradles the heel and offers extra support to the foot by reducing movement such as over pronation or supination. The firmer the heel counter the more support it will offer. To test the firmness of the heel counter use your thumb and press on the back of the shoe. If it flattens or collapses it will not provide your foot as much support as a heel counter that retains it’s shape.
4. OUTER SOLE
The outersole comes in different shapes and materials. Like the style of the shoe it is important to know your foot shape when looking at the outersole. The outersole can come in a “C” shaped curve or a “straight or neutral” shape. This usually occurs in sneakers only. Dress shoes tend to all have a “straight or neutral” shape. Look at the shape of your foot from an aeriel view. Does it look like the front of the foot bends in in respect to the rest of your foot. If you have a “c” shaped foot then choosing a sneaker with the same shape will be a better fit for your than a “straight or neutral” shape.
The outersole can come in various support. One of the tests we do as Podiatrists is to bend the shoe by gripping the toes with one hand and gripping the heel with the other and bending and twisting the outersole to see how much flexibility there is. A supportive sole should only bend where the toes would normally bend. If the outersole bends anywhere else e.g. the arch then the outersole is providing minimal support.
5. TOE BOX
The toe box is the front of the shoe where your toes sit. It can come in different shapes e.g. pointed, square, round, wide and narrow. It is especially important when choosing an enclosed toed shoe that the depth of the toe box fits your toes. There is no point squeezing your toes into a shoe with a shallow toe box if you need more space as this can lead to foot problems. Similarly in open toed shoes it is important your toes sit well to avoid overhang. This not only doesn’t look very pretty but that poor little toe can easily be traumatised with no protection.
Cushioning is exactly how it sounds. It is padding for your foot. Think of it as ‘pillows for your feet’. More and more dress shoes these days are offering extra ‘padding’ in the inner bed of the shoe. There are different types of padding. Look for padding that bounces back and doesn’t collapse easily when pressing down with your thumb. The better the cushioning the more resistance there is when you press down.
Cushioning is especially important in running shoes. It is often related to shock absorption. For those looking to run kilometres it is more comfortable to choose a shoe with more cushioning. You can get a general feel of how much cushioning there is when you try a pair of shoes on. There should be some level of ‘spring’ when you walk in them.
7. ORTHOTIC FRIENDLY
One shoe buying criteria often overlooked by many people is whether the shoe is orthotic friendly, which means the sole can be taken out and replaced with an orthotic insole. Many shoe manufacturers often sew in a poorly supported generic sole which cannot accommodate a supportive orthotic insole. The problem is if you try to insert your own orthotic insole on top of an existing sole there is not enough room for your foot and the shoe is too tight and this can lead to other problems.
Orthotic friendly shoes will easily allow you to remove the generic sole and replace the sole with your own supportive orthotic insole. This is why most pro athletes choose to wear orthotic insoles to optimize their gate and biomechanics.
Your feet will thank you for buying orthotic friendly shoes and using your own custom made orthotic insole by rewarding you with less frequency and severe heel and arch pain! This will allow you to walk or hike much longer without noticing those aches and pains in the foot and slow down changes like arthritis later in life.