Choosing Footwear

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Medical conditions that can arise from improper shoe fit include new-onset bunion pain (from narrow shoes or those with rigid material covering the forefoot); metatarsalgia, or Morton neuroma (from shoes that are too tight across the forefoot); and black toe (from a shallow toe box). Toe deformities such as hammertoe, claw toe, and overlapping fifth toe may become symptomatic in individuals whose shoes have toe boxes that are either too narrow or too shallow. Though calluses and blisters are more or less expected in many sports, they are more common with a shoe that rubs the skin excessively or allows the foot to move or slide around. Here are some tips to help you head off foot problems by buying shoes that fit well:

  • Find a reputable running shoe store in your area and shop there for athletic shoes.
  • Shoes should feel comfortable in the store when you try them on; there’s no such thing as a “breaking in” period. Don’t buy shoes if seams or stitching can be felt. This can cause blisters, calluses, or other injuries.
  • Get fitted for athletic shoes at the end of the day, when foot size is at its maximum.
  • When trying on shoes, wear the type of socks you normally wear when working out.
  • Allow about one-half inch between the end of the your longest toe and the shoe’s end. During a stride, the longest toe should never touch the front of the shoe, and the heel should not slip in and out. There should be “wiggle room” for all your toes.
  • Always try on both shoes before making a purchase. If one foot is larger than the other, buy the larger size.
  • Consider budget as well as fitness needs before spending lots of money. Avoid buying a shoe because it is the latest trend. Practicality takes priority.
  • Shoes typically lose their cushioning after three to six months of regular use. Wearing worn-out shoes increases the risk of injury, so replace them when necessary.
  • Shoes should have arch supports and should elevate the heel one-half to three-quarters of an inch above the sole of the shoe.
  • Choose a shoe with uppers made of materials that “breathe” such as leather or nylon mesh.
  • Feet with high arches typically require greater shock absorption and cushioning while feet with low arches need greater support and heel control.
  • Synthetic socks are better than cotton because they don’t compress as much, they dry quickly, and they wick moisture away from the foot. They also prevent blisters.
  • If the inner soles that come with the shoes do not provide adequate arch support, try substituting full-length arch supports made by Spenco, Dr. Scholl’s, or Powerstep, available at running stores or pharmacies. You will know if the shoe doesn’t provide enough arch support if the sole of your foot or your shins ache during or after your walk.
  • Shoes are designed for specific sports. The best for walking are walking shoes; second best are running shoes.

Originally Published May 27, 2011

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