High-heeled shoes have been getting bad press for a while now. While common sense might tell you to avoid teetering on sky-high stilettos, there could be challenges with a harmless pair of low-heeled shoes too. Whether you’re someone with arthritis or diabetes, or a perfectly healthy and active individual, your footwear choices can make a world of difference to your mobility and health. Picking the wrong pair could have devastating consequences and leave you in pain or with foot deformities.
What Damage Does Wrong Footwear Do?
One study of elderly men and women with forefoot deformities revealed that most subjects wore shoes that were not the right fit. The women in the study typically had shoes that were too narrow for their feet, and also shorter than the size they should have worn. Those with overly narrow shoes had problems ranging from corns on their toes to foot pain and deformity of the hallux valgus – commonly known as a bunion. Wearing shoes too short for the size of the foot was also linked to lesser toe deformity.1
If you favor pointy shoes, you could end up with hammer toes and painful pinched nerves.2
Wearing very high heels can be just as bad as wearing an ill-fitting shoe. As research showed, a heel higher than 25 mm is associated with plantar calluses and bunions.3 It can also add to your risk of developing arthritis and foot pain. Another study found that women who wore 2 to 3.5 inch heels had higher chances of developing knee osteoarthritis and knee joint degeneration.4
Picking The Right Pair: What To Look For
Finding the right pair of shoes isn’t just about fit or support, but as much about your lifestyle and the purpose for which you plan to use the shoes. Follow these rules and you will get the most out of your footwear without harming your feet.
Fitting: When you’re picking out a pair of shoes, the most important tip is actually the simplest. If a shoe hurts, it is probably not good for your feet. Pick a pair that fits like a glove, feels comfortable, and supports you well and you could avoid footwear-related damage. Get a toe box that is roomy and doesn’t squeeze your feet into a glamorous but impossibly narrow space.
Cushioning: Rubber soles provide better cushioning and are firm yet adequately pliable to cushion the impact when you walk. Pick a shoe that has adequate surface area – the more the better. This will help act as a more effective shock absorber for the feet and body. It will also mean the pressure points on your feet are subject to less stress.
Grip: Avoid nasty spills and tumbles by getting a pair of shoes that has good grip. Before you buy a set, flip it over and check what material the soles are made of. Rubber soles with treads usually have better grip. Harder materials tend to cause you to skid more. Give the shoes a test drive on a slippery or tiled surface before you buy them.
Support: Pick heels that are not too high, and choose wedge heels over stilettos. The wider surface area seen on lower pumps and walking shoes offers better support and stability. Check that the shoes support your arch properly. Also looks for sandals that have more straps. These can help you adjust them to the shape and size of your foot and also give you added support.
Special Footwear For Your Needs
Footwear technology has advanced tremendously. And this means you could find a pair that’s specially designed for your particular need or condition. For instance, if you are a cross-country runner, there is footwear meant for just that. If you are a basketball player, there are shoes for that too. Even if you just need a pair for a brisk walk on a concrete sidewalk to and from work or the grocer, there is a pair just right for you.
As a Harvard Medical School professor attests, the elderly can benefit greatly from a little extra care with choosing their footwear. If you are an older adult, by following the basic rules to hone in on the right fit, you could even change your quality of life. The right shoes can sometimes help ease the pain associated with walking and help you get more active. With the right support for your feet, you may be able to do much more than you could before in ill-fitting shoes.5
Diabetics are another group who benefit from special footwear. Special medical grade footwear can offer pressure relief and heal neuropathic forefoot ulcers. They also prevent recurrence of these foot ulcers common among diabetics.6
Remember, what is right for someone else may not be right for you. Flipflops are widely dismissed for use by those with balance issues because they lack the grip and support of other shoes. However, for someone with knee osteoarthritis (and no balance issues) they may actually provide the cushioning and support that’s optimal, not unlike any other flat shoe.7
So pick footwear that caters to your lifestyle, needs, foot shape, and health condition and you will find your shoes can support you much better than before.
|↑1, ↑3||Menz, Hylton B., and Meg E. Morris. “Footwear characteristics and foot problems in older people.” Gerontology 51, no. 5 (2005): 346-351.|
|↑2||Frey, Carol, and Michael J. Coughlin. “Women’s shoe wear: An orthopaedist’s advice.” Journal of Women’s Health 8, no. 1 (1999): 45-49.|
|↑4||Barkema, Danielle D., Timothy R. Derrick, and Philip E. Martin. “Heel height affects lower extremity frontal plane joint moments during walking.” Gait & posture 35, no. 3 (2012): 483-488.|
|↑5||Find the Best and Worst Shoes for Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation.|
|↑6||Bergin, Shan M., Vanessa L. Nube, Jan B. Alford, Bernard P. Allard, Joel M. Gurr, Emma L. Holland, Mark W. Horsley et al. “Australian Diabetes Foot Network: practical guideline on the provision of footwear for people with diabetes.” J Foot Ankle Res 6, no. 6 (2013).|
|↑7||Shakoor, Najia, Mondira Sengupta, Kharma C. Foucher, Markus A. Wimmer, Louis F. Fogg, and Joel A. Block. “Effects of common footwear on joint loading in osteoarthritis of the knee.” Arthritis care & research 62, no. 7 (2010): 917-923.|