Fitness Facts: Choosing the right shoes
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
Did you know that your shoe choice could be causing you back pain, hip pain, leg pain and many other physical symptoms?
Wearing good shoes can help you not only feel your best but also prevent injuries. The right shoe can help keep your feet healthy as well as your body safe from injury.
If your shoes are too tight, too loose or insufficiently supportive, your physical activity may place stress on your feet, ankles, lower legs and other joints. This ongoing pressure may contribute to pain and injuries.
Poor footwear choice can contribute to common sports injuries, such as shin splints and Achilles tendon pain, corns and bunions, ingrown nails or postural issues and lower back pain. Such injuries may significantly limit or stop your activity.
Choosing the right shoes can help avoid injury. Learn what can happen when you wear the wrong shoes:
- The chance of injury can be increased if your shoes are not designed for your activity or the conditions or are not suited to your body mass or foot mechanics. As an example, there are different requirements for beach versus road running.
- Wearing the wrong shoe can exacerbate existing problems such as pain or arthritis in your hips, knees, ankles or feet.
- Even a short duration in the wrong shoes can cause stress and pain to your bones and joints and the soft tissues that support them. For example, if you regularly stand for long periods of time as part of your job, the wrong shoes can make that a bigger issue.
- Your shoes can make a significant impact on the way you walk or your gait. The movement of your feet during each step affects how the rest of your body follows. When you step correctly, your heel makes contact with the ground first. Then the arch rolls inward a little, allowing the ball of the foot and then the big toe to make contact. The heel then comes off the ground, which allows you to push off from the ball of your foot and big toe.
- Some people’s arches roll inward too much or not enough – either of which can impact how effectively your feet absorb shock. This can contribute to additional stress on other joints.
- Some shoe types, including high heels and flip flops (“thongs”), aren’t suited to activity.
Remember, the right shoe can help prevent, reduce or eliminate foot pain. A lack of pain has a huge impact on how well and easily you move. So find the right shoe and get active!
Tips for choosing the correct shoe:
- Take a tracing of your foot with you. Place any shoe you think you might buy on top of the tracing. If the shoe is narrower or shorter than the tracing, don’t even try it on.
- Shop for shoes during the afternoon — your foot naturally expands with use during the day.
- Wear the same type of socks to the store that you intend to wear with the shoes.
- Have a salesperson measure both of your feet — and get measured every time you buy new shoes. Feet change with age, often growing larger and wider. If one foot is larger than the other, buy a size that fits the larger foot.
- Stand in the shoes. Press gently on the top of the shoe to 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 foot to press forward as you walk. Wiggle your toes to make sure there’s enough room.
- Walk around in the shoes to determine how they feel. Is there enough room at the balls of the feet? Do the heels fit snugly, or do they pinch or slip off? Don’t rationalize that the shoes just need to be “broken in.” Find shoes that fit from the start.
- Trust your own comfort level rather than a shoe’s size or description. Sizes vary between manufacturers. And no matter how comfortable an advertisement claims those shoes are, you’re the real judge.
- 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. Buying shoes that are a half-size bigger — but not any wider — will not necessarily solve the problem.
- Feel the inside of the shoes to see if they have any tags, seams or other material that might irritate your foot.
- Examine the soles. Are they sturdy enough to provide protection from sharp objects? Do they provide any cushioning? Take note of how they feel as you walk around the shoe store. Try to walk on hard surfaces as well as carpet to see how the shoe feels on both.
- If you play a sport, choose a shoe designed for that sport.
- If you have foot or ankle problems, you may need to change shoes, make some changes to your existing shoes or use various shoe supports.
- A heel cup may alleviate pain beneath the heel. Made of plastic, foam or rubber, the cup may provide support around the heel while relieving pressure beneath the tender spot.
- Some foot problems can be improved by stretching and strengthening exercises, wearing a different shoe or simple over-the-counter shoe modifications. However, long-term and complicated problems ‒ such as severe flat foot, high arches, shin splints, Achilles tendon injury and turf toe ‒ may require specialized assessment.
Talk with a health care professional (such as a podiatrist or physiotherapist) about any problems with your feet or footwear. They may be able to recommend a treatment to help your symptoms or a specialist shop that has shoes suitable for you.