foot pain relief

Bad Shoes Raise a Women's Risk of Lifetime Foot Pain

New research reveals that the kinds of shoes a woman wears most predicts how much foot pain she has today—and will have in the future.

By Megan Othersen Gorman

Bad Shoes Raise a Women's Risk of Lifetime Foot Pain

Give tight shoes the boot: Ill-fitting footwear creates a lifetime of pain.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—If you want foot pain relief, follow one simple rule: If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, nine out of 10 women routinely wear shoes that are too small (ouch!) for their feet. And according to a study published this week in the medical journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, those women will suffer foot pain for that choice—not just now, but later.

THE DETAILS: Researchers the Boston University School of Public Health and the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston looked at 3,378 participants (average age of 66) in the famous Framingham Study, all of whom had had a foot exam between 2002 and 2008. The researchers asked each participant whether he or she had pain, aching, or stiffness in either foot. And they asked participants to identify, from a list of 11 types of shoes, which one type they currently wear most frequently, and which one type of shoe they wore most frequently when they were 20 to 29 years old, 30 to 44 years old, 45 to 64 years old, 65 to 74 years old, and 75 and older. The researchers classified the shoes as “good” (as in athletic and casual sneakers, which provide rigid heel counters, holding the foot in place, and lots of rear-foot support), “average” (or, hard- or rubber-soled shoes and work boots), or “poor” (as in high-heeled shoes, sandals, and slippers). And they examined the effect of shoe type on foot pain, adjusting for the age and weight of the participants.

What they found was there was no correlation whatsoever between shoe type and foot pain in men, perhaps because less than 2 percent of the nearly 1,500 men in the study commonly wore bad shoes. In women, however, shoe type made a serious difference. In fact, those who commonly wore “good” shoes in the past were 67 percent less likely than those who wore “average” shoes to have heel and Achilles tendon pain at the time of the study, regardless of their weight.

WHAT IT MEANS: While well-fitting shoes can mean foot pain relief, if they don't fit properly or provide ample support, shoes that seem fashionable now can set you up for painful consequences later. “Our study showed that the shoes you choose now matter when you’re older,” says Alyssa Dufour, lead author of the study and a grad student in biostatistics at Boston University. “You should pay careful attention to the width, length, and comfort of your shoes, and look for a shoe with good support and padding now if you want to walk pain-free when you’re older.” Sneakers—the shoe type considered best within the framework of the study—offer exactly that, via soft yet supportive soles that best absorb the stress of impact.

You can’t wear sneakers every day. So here’s how the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests you shop for shoes that will reduce your risk of future foot pain:

• Have both feet measured every time you purchase shoes. Your foot size increases as you get older and as the day progresses.

• Try on both shoes, and fit new shoes to your largest foot. Most people have one foot larger than the other.

• Make sure there is a ½-inch space from the end of your longest toe to the end of the shoe. When the shoe is on your foot, you should be able to freely wiggle all of your toes.

• Make sure the shoe fits snugly to your heel, so your feet don’t slip forward in it.

• Don't trust the label. Sizes vary among shoe brands and styles, so consider the size a guide only. Judge a shoe by how it fits on your foot, not by the marked size.

• Walk around in the shoes to make sure they fit well and feel comfortable. If the shoes feel too tight, don’t buy them. There is no such thing as a “break-in period” for new shoes.

• Just say no to Manolos. Women shouldn’t habitually wear a shoe with a heel higher than 2¼ inches, since, eventually, the position in which it places the foot will shorten the Achilles tendon, making it stiff and inflexible. Also, most high-heeled shoes have a pointed, narrow toe box that crowds the toes and forces them into an unnatural triangular shape. As heel height increases, the pressure under the ball of the foot may double, placing greater pressure on the forefoot as it is forced into the pointed toe box.


Published on: October 7, 2009

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