8 Shoe Mistakes That Could Definitely Be Causing Your Foot Pain
Before you toss every pair of shoes in your closet, let’s run through a quick primer on your feet.
Your feet have the big job of supporting your body weight and sustaining the impact of standing, walking, running, and everything else you do throughout the day. They’re complex body parts comprised of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments, according to the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
When your feet don’t get the support they need, it can lead to issues like blisters, bunions (bony bumps where your big toes connect to your feet), and hammertoes (when your toes become permanently bent due to pressure and look, unsurprisingly, like hammers). Improper support can also cause pain beyond your feet, like in your knees or back, as other parts of your body have to overcompensate.
With all of the above in mind, here are eight shoe mistakes you might be guilty of:
1. You can’t remember the last time you got your feet measured.
“Feet change over time,” doctor of podiatric medicine and podiatric surgeon Jacqueline Sutera tells SELF. “With age, some ligaments and tendons become a little bit looser, and gravity and body weight reshape the feet so they can become wider and stretch out.” Significant weight fluctuations, like gaining weight during pregnancy, can change your shoe size, too. So can having bunions or hammertoes, or having a condition like rheumatoid arthritis that can cause joints to swell. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes may also lead to changes in foot size or shape due to nerve damage, which can result in other symptoms like tingling, pain, and numbness, too.
You’ll probably notice if your trusty 8.5 no longer fits anymore, but even if you’re just feeling some discomfort lately, it’s worth getting your feet measured in-person at a shoe store when you can, or try to do it yourself online.
2. You don’t know squat about your arches.
“Generally speaking, there are two types of feet: high-arched and low-arched,” Robert Gillanders, a physical therapist and doctor of physical therapy, tells SELF. “The particular demands for those two types of feet are drastically different.”
In someone with low arches, the curves between the balls and heels of their feet are closer to the ground. Someone with high-arched feet has taller gaps there. People can also have truly “flat feet,” meaning their arches are so low their feet are actually flat on the ground, but Gillanders says that’s quite rare.
The curve of your shoe should support your arches so they can in turn support the rest of your feet and your body, Gillanders explains. Chat with a podiatrist or visit a fitness or speciality shoe shop to figure out what’s best for you.
3. You’re usually walking around (a lot) in shoes that aren’t up for the job.
As cute as high-heeled shoes may be, they’re not the right fit for clocking 10,000 steps, exploring a new city on vacation, or even walking around your office all day. “The shoe should match your activity,” Sutera says. You mainly need arch support and enough cushioning for proper shock absorption, she explains.
That means high heels are generally out (though, hey, there are always exceptions). High heels generally shift your weight forward to the balls of your feet, putting entirely too much pressure on your muscles and joints and potentially causing pain, along with issues like bunions and hammertoes over time. On the other hand, flat shoes like flip-flops typically don’t offer much in the way of arch support or shock absorption, so they can also cause foot pain. For walking, look for a shoe with a low or flat heel, lots of cushioning, and a shape that follows the arch of your foot.
4. You choose your workout or running shoes based on appearance.
Don’t just buy sneakers based on how they look or because a fitness Instagrammer you love swears by them. “Picking the right performance shoe should be a strategic process,” women’s fitness specialist and certified personal trainer Andia Winslow tells SELF. Even going with a model you’ve always loved could lead you astray, since the shoe’s design may have changed in a way you don’t realize, she says.
When you need new sneakers, Winslow recommends going to a speciality running or workout shoe store and speaking with a specialist. You’ll need to factor in things like the type of exercise you’ll be doing—running over 25 miles on cement each week is very different from doing HIIT classes a few times a week, Winslow points out.
If it’s financially feasible, consider having different kinds of sneakers for the workouts you do most often. While this might seem like the shoe industry’s way of getting you to shop more, it’s actually legit. “Tennis, basketball, and dance shoes are made with lateral support in mind because of the side-to-side motions of the sport,” Sutera says. Running and walking shoes are made with forward motion as the top priority. “Wearing a running shoe for tennis, or vice versa, can encourage [injuries] like sprains,” Sutera says.
5. You dedicate a day to “break in” new shoes.
It’s true that leather shoes and those made of multiple materials, like hiking boots, can stretch after you buy them. This means they might need some breaking in before you can get to the point where you feel like you’re walking on clouds.
You shouldn’t rush the process, though. You know the trick where you put on thick socks, force your feet into new shoes, and blow a hairdryer over them to loosen them up ASAP? Sutera does not approve. It typically doesn’t work as well as just letting the shoes become accustomed to your feet over time and can also cause pain or blisters. For similar reasons, Sutera also doesn’t recommend wearing the shoes for hours on end to “push through the pain.”
Instead, try to take it slowly. “It’s best to wear a shoe a little at a time until it loosens naturally,” Sutera says. Whether you’re doing this at home or while running quick errands, she recommends keeping socks or bandaids handy to prevent blisters or chafing.
If you don’t have the time or patience for this, you can research different shoe stretchers on the market, look into reviews of sprays or creams that are meant to stretch shoes, or even ask a shoemaker or cobbler if they can add a little more room to your footwear.
6. As soon as you get home, it’s barefoot central.
For a lot of people, going barefoot is about ultimate comfort, not an issue that needs fixing. However, in some people, constantly walking or standing barefoot on surfaces like hardwood floors, tile, or marble puts too much stress on structures of the feet, either causing or exacerbating pain over time.
This all comes down to the fat pads on the balls and heels of your feet, which help cushion your bodyweight, Sutera says. “Over time ... this padding starts to become thin and wears down,” she explains. Going barefoot too much can tax these fat pads without offering external support, so your feet may start to hurt.
If you have foot pain that you think is due to being barefoot too much, try getting a pair of slippers with plush insoles to wear around the house, or park a memory foam mat in places where you stand a lot, like by the kitchen sink.
7. You don’t really use insoles or understand their purpose.
Depending on your foot type and any specific pain you might already have, the insoles that come with your shoes may not actually be the right, supportive choice for you. “A good rule of thumb is to choose a stiffer insole if you have a flatter foot and a more cushioned insole if you have a higher arch,” Sutera says.
If you’re in the market for new insoles, check out a custom insole shop, your local drug store, or an online source like Amazon. “There are some decent over-the-counter ones available that match or rival custom inserts,” Gillanders says.
8. You’re still holding on to that worn-down pair of boots from 2012.
Many people only throw away a pair of shoes when the soles are worn down, Gillanders says. “Once the sole starts to break down, it actually [changes] the angle at which your foot strikes the ground,” Sutera explains. This can cause pain in your feet, knees, hips, and back, she says. Unfortunately, this can also happen way before your shoes’ soles prompt a shopping trip.
Depending on your activity level and the kind of shoe in question, it takes between a few months to a year of everyday use to wear out footwear, the experts say. If you absolutely love a pair of pumps, loafers, or dressy boots, resoling them or adding insoles can help prolong their usefulness. But Sutera and Gillanders both recommend letting go of sneakers, hiking boots, and walking-around shoes when their time is up.
If your shoes look worn out, deformed, or have soles with abnormally smooth spots, a ton of wear and tear, or holes, that’s a clear sign it’s time to get rid of them, Sutera says. Another way to know: “You can do a ‘tabletop test’ by putting your shoes on a table and looking at the soles at eye level,” Sutera says. “They should not be uneven or warped.” Even if your shoes look perfectly fine, if working out in them feels different, they don’t fit the same as they used to, or they actually make your feet sore during or after use, it might be time to toss them, Sutera says.
The bottom line: Your feet are probably doing way more than you give them credit for, so they need shoes to match.
Shoes, like clothes, are pretty personal. The right choices for you will depend on your activity levels, height, weight, walking and running gait, personal style, and a lot more. But if you’re experiencing any kind of foot pain that persists for days, makes it impossible—or just uncomfortable—to live your life as normal, or otherwise seems a little too weird to ignore, it’s time to see a podiatrist for evaluation.