Shoes serve many functions. They protect our feet. They cushion our body weight. They allow us to play sports. They can make our feet feel comfortable or fashionable — hopefully both! Finding the proper shoes and making sure they fit are important for keeping your feet and your body happy.
Poorly fitting shoes can cause bunions, corns, calluses, hammertoes, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and more. People have different foot shapes and different needs. So the shoes that may work for your neighbor may not be the right ones for you. Even after you find the right shoes, remember that they will wear down over time and need to be replaced, usually every six months to one year of regular use.
So how do you find the right shoes? In this world of online shopping and big box stores, a knowledgeable shoe salesperson is hard to find. So the orthopaedic foot and ankle specialists of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society have prepared these tips to help you through the process.
- Have your feet measured. People’s foot size and shape can change over time. So don't rely on the fact that you have always worn a certain size. That size likely is no longer the best fit for you.
- Most people have one foot that is larger than the other, so make sure you have BOTH feet measured. Fit your shoes to the larger foot.
- It is helpful to get measured at the end of the day when your feet are the largest. When you are up during the day, your feet will swell and settle some. You want to make sure you are comfortable throughout the day and not just when you head out of the house in the morning.
- Just like clothes, the size marked inside the shoe may be different depending on the brand. So your shoe size is a just a starting point in selecting the correct shoe.
- Make sure the shoe fits your foot comfortably. Look at the shape of the shoe; it should resemble the shape of your foot.
- Don’t plan on shoes stretching over time; they should fit well when you buy them. It’s like buying clothes that are too small and hoping that you will lose weight and then they will fit — that rarely happens.
- The ball of your foot (the widest part just before your toes begin) should fit comfortably in the widest part of the shoe.
- The shoe should also have enough depth to fit your toes, especially if you have hammertoes or other conditions. Shoes with too small of a toe box will cause rubbing and you will get calluses or sores.
- Stand up and make sure there is 3/8" or 1/2" (about the width of your finger) between your longest toe (usually the second toe) and the end of the shoe.
- Always stand and walk around in the shoes to see if they are comfortable, fit well, and don’t chafe or rub anywhere. Your heel should not slip or slide while walking.
Match the shoe to your activity
Another important point to remember is to purchase shoes that are meant for the activity you want to do. Running shoes are specially designed to provide the proper cushioning at the heel and flexibility at the toes that athletes need. Walking shoes have a shock absorbing heel and flex at the ball of the foot. Cross-trainers are often good all-purpose shoes for general exercise. Basketball shoes are meant for basketball and may not be the best choice if you do a lot of walking. Cycling shoes are stiffer to help you pedal more efficiently but don’t work well for most other activities. Dress shoes can be comfortable as well as look good. Many dress shoes are now made with a sneaker-like sole that provides better cushioning and tread and better arch support. Expensive Italian loafers are not for everybody.
Look for good shoe construction
Some basic principles of a good shoe include a cushioned heel, firm sole that doesn’t easily twist or bend, and flexibility at the proper area depending on the type of shoe. A soft breathable material for the upper of the shoe makes it more comfortable to wear for longer period of time and less likely to cause rubbing or skin irritation. The upper of the shoe should allow adjustment (laces, straps, etc.) to comfortably hold the foot in place with activity. There should be some arch support in the shoe or in the insert inside the shoe. Many shoes can be made to fit better simply by removing the factory insert and replacing it with a high quality off-the-shelf orthotic. Custom orthotics are rarely necessary and should be prescribed by your doctor for specific foot disorders.
Following these simple steps will help minimize your risk of shoe problems and foot problems. Don’t believe the myth that fashionable shoes have to be uncomfortable. There are many stylish shoes out there that feel good too. If you have certain foot or ankle problems, then talk to your orthopaedic foot and ankle doctor. Don’t sacrifice comfort and safety for fashion. Your feet will thank you in the long run, short run, and even just walking around.
To find an orthopaedic foot and ankle specialist in your area, click here.
The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) offers information on this site as an educational service. The content of FootCareMD, including text, images and graphics, is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnoses or treatments. If you need medical advice, use the "Find an Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Surgeon" tool at the top of this page or contact your primary doctor.