What to Consider When Buying Shoes

Wearing uncomfortable, ill-fitting, or lesser-quality footwear can lead to a host of foot and ankle problems, as well as foot injuries and even foot deformities over time.

Use this checklist to make sure you choose the best shoe to head off foot issues before they start:

  • Footwear should have a comfortable, durable design, be made of high quality materials, and protect the feet from injury. A proper fit is top priority (see the suggested shoe fitting guidelines below).
  • Never buy a shoe based on looks alone; brand, design, style, and color should come second to a proper, comfortable fit.
  • Heel heights of one inch or less, or flat shoes, are best for your feet. If high heels must be worn, do not go higher than two inches and avoid wearing them for periods longer than three hours. The higher the heel, the greater the pressure on the forefoot. The heel counter should be padded on the inside and rigid on the outside.
  • Avoid shoes with narrow or pointed toe boxes that crunch and put pressure on the toes.
  • Soles should have a good tread to avoid slips and falls; they should also be shock absorbent. Although rubber soles are best, thick rubber soles that extend over the tip of the toe box can cause accidental falls if they snag while walking.
  • Uppers should be made of soft, breathable material that offers unrestricted movement.
  • Inside the shoe, make sure there are not raised seams that can cause friction and irritation, especially if they rub against problem areas like bunions or corns.
  • Laces provide the best fit and support, as opposed to slip-on footwear.

To ensure a proper fit, be sure to stick with the following advice when trying on new shoes:

  • Since most people have two differently-sized feet, make sure both feet are measured and the shoe size accommodates the larger of the two feet.
  • It is best to try on shoes at the end of the day when feet are swollen and larger from a day’s worth of activity.
  • Try on shoes with the socks that you will actually wear.
  • All types of footwear should fit comfortably from the start. If shoes are too tight, do not think they will fit better after a “break-in period;” this is a myth.
  • There should be a half-inch of space between the longest toe and the tip of the shoe’s toe box, which is about the width of an adult’s thumb. The toes should have enough wiggle room to move around without restriction.
  • The heel of the shoe should fit snugly so the heel does not slip out when walking.
  • Shoe size varies from brand to brand, as well as from style to style. Make sure you go by how a shoe fits your foot and not just the size marked on the shoe.
  • Walk around the store several times to make sure the shoes fit properly when in motion. Check the foot for any redness that could indicate rubbing or pressure.

Nutrition for Your Feet and Ankles

Osteoporosis, or weak, brittle bones, may affect the feet before other body parts, resulting in stress fractures. Every bone in your body, including the ones in your feet and ankles, can benefit from sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Exercising and strength training regularly can also help strengthen your bones.

Ingrown Toenails

Ingrown toenails, known as onychocryptosis, most commonly occur on the big toe and are caused by pressure that drives the edge of the nail into the surrounding skin. Ingrown toenails can result from improper nail trimming, injuries, fungal infections, and toe deformities; they can also be inherited. The condition causes pain, redness, inflammation, swelling, and sometimes, infection. The condition is common in athletes and runners and can be caused by ill-fitting footwear in the toe area.

Although ingrown toenails can go away on their own, warm foot soaks with Epsom salts, elevation, and anti-inflammatory medications may help with healing and reducing pain (always seek medical advice from a doctor before taking any medication). Ingrown toenails that are chronic, persistent or get worse should be treated by a doctor who can prescribe antibiotics or even perform surgery, if necessary, to alleviate the condition. To prevent ingrown toenails, trim the toenails straight across and avoid clipping the nails too short or in a curved fashion.

Fungal Problems

Fungal problems can develop on the feet in areas such as between the toes, on the sole of the foot, and on the toenails. Since the feet are frequently exposed to moisture due to sweating and wet weather conditions, fungal infections are common. Fungi flourish in warm, dark, and moist environments, making the feet the perfect host for fungal problems like athlete’s foot and fungal nails. Diseases such as diabetes that weaken the immune system can also leave people prone to foot fungal problems. Fungal problems can be chronic.

Some foot fungal infections are very contagious and spread easily from person-to-person contact and contaminated surfaces; they can also migrate to other parts of the body. There are several over-the-counter medicated foot powders, creams, and sprays available to treat athlete’s foot; these should be used at the recommendation of a healthcare professional or doctor, as different fungi require different treatments. A doctor can prescribe topical or oral medications to treat severe cases.

Fungal infections like athlete’s foot can be prevented by the following suggestions:

  • Wash and dry feet thoroughly, taking extra care to dry between the toes.
  • Use powder to keep the feet dry.
  • Keep socks and footwear clean and dry; socks can be changed several times daily.
  • Wear footwear made of breathable materials that allow air to circulate around the feet; constricting footwear, stockings, and socks can trap moisture and perspiration on the feet.
  • Never share socks or footwear.
  • Do not use someone else’s foot hygiene instruments, such as nail clippers, emery boards, or foot files.
  • Do not walk barefoot in public areas such as showers, pools, and locker rooms; instead, wear plastic flip-flops, slides, or shower shoes.

 

Foot Self-Exam

Here are some helpful hints for checking if your feet are healthy and problem-free:

  • Skin: Do you have any calluses, corns, blisters, rashes, or irritations? Are you experiencing areas of friction or pressure due to ill-fitting footwear rubbing against the skin? Also, a bluish, reddish, or purplish tinge to the toes or feet can signal a problem with circulation.
  • Pain: Are you experiencing any pain or discomfort? Pain can be sudden or chronic; it can happen before, during, or after activities such as walking or running or even while just sitting still.
  • Sensation: Do you have normal foot sensation on all parts of the foot? Use a stick-type object with a dull end (such as a pencil’s eraser end) and gently drag it across the top, bottom, and left and right sides of both feet. The feeling should be the same in all areas except for the sole of the foot that is more ticklish. Decreased sensation can indicate nerve dysfunction and/ or diabetes.
  • Movement: Do you have good balance? Conduct a simple balance test to find out: stand on one foot, close your eyes, and stick your arms out to the sides; up to age 30, you should be able to balance for 15 seconds; 30 to 40 year olds should be able to keep their balance for 12 seconds; 40 to 50 year olds should hold their balance for 10 seconds; and people over 50 should be able to maintain their balance for 7 seconds.

Are your toes and ankles flexible? Try some basic foot, toe, ankle, and lower leg exercises. If you experience pain, there may be a problem present. If you feel a strain, it would be beneficial to start exercising these body parts regularly. See our “Foot and Toe Stretching Exercises” and our “Ankle and Lower Leg Stretching Exercises.”

Foot Odor and Smelly Feet

Fungal problems can cause foot odor and smelly feet. Since the feet are frequently exposed to moisture due to sweating and wet weather conditions, fungal infections are common. Chronic foot odor can signal an infection or heavy perspiration or sweating of the feet.

Fungal infections like athlete’s foot can be prevented by the following suggestions:

  • Wash and dry feet thoroughly, taking extra care to dry between the toes.
  • Use powder to keep the feet dry.
  • Keep socks and footwear clean and dry; socks can be changed several times daily.
  • Wear footwear made of breathable materials that allow air to circulate around the feet; constricting footwear, stockings, and socks can trap moisture and perspiration on the feet.
  • Never share socks or footwear.
  • Do not use someone else’s foot hygiene instruments, such as emery boards, nail clippers, or foot files
  • Do not walk barefoot in public areas such as showers, pools, and locker rooms; instead, wear plastic flip-flops, slides, or shower shoes.

Sweaty feet can be treated with a black tea foot soak: Using two tea bags per pint of water, brew strong black tea by boiling it for 15 minutes; add two quarts of cold water; and soak the feet for half an hour daily for seven days in a row. The black tea contains bacteria-destroying acids and also shrinks pores, which can help keep perspiration at bay. Vinegar foot soaks are also effective: Mix one part vinegar with two parts cool water and soak.

A podiatrist can prescribe ointments to apply to the feet at bedtime. There are also medical treatments such as iontophoresis and surgical procedures that can control extremely sweaty feet.

Foot Care for Seniors

Most people experience some sort of foot problem with age; however, it is important to know that foot problems can be a symptom of several serious health issues, such as diabetes, poor circulation, nerve problems, and arthritis. At the first sign of a foot problem, seniors should contact a health care provider such as a podiatrist for proper diagnosis and treatment. Changes in the foot’s appearance, as well as sudden and chronic pain, should never be ignored.

To keep the feet healthy, seniors should follow the following foot care suggestions:

  • Check your feet and toenails daily, or have someone else check them for changes. See a podiatrist if you notice something looks different or unusual.
  • Maintain good circulation to the lower extremities: walk frequently, avoid sitting for long periods with crossed legs and without rising to stretch and move, raise the feet when sitting or reclining, have the feet massaged regularly, keep the feet warm, and do not smoke.
  • Keep your feet clean and dry.
  • Properly-fitting, comfortable shoes are essential to foot care. A shoe that causes pressure or friction or lacks cushion and support can generate foot and toe problems. Tears or cuts in the skin of the foot can also lead to infection.

Foot Care at Work

Many people do not consider the safety of their feet when aiming to stay injury-free at work. Whether your job involves long periods of standing or potentially dangerous working conditions, it is important to wear appropriate footwear to avoid injuries to the feet and toes on the job.

The National Safety Council reports that approximately 40,000 of the 120,000 work-related foot injuries that occur each year involve the toes. In addition, only about 25% of workers suffering from a job-related foot injury were wearing safety footwear.

If standing for long periods of time, make sure you wear supportive, cushioned footwear, take sitting breaks to rest the feet, and raise the feet after work to reduce swelling. Massages can ease stressed, tired feet, and foot and toe exercises can help give the feet strength and flexibility.

For jobs that involve potentially hazardous materials, equipment, or work locations, such as construction sites and refineries, be sure to protect the skin on the feet from water, hot temperatures, and chemicals; it is also important to guard the toes and feet from fractures and crushing injuries resulting from debris or dropped tools. Work boots should be durable yet comfortable and are available in light industrial and heavy industrial classes. Choose one appropriate for your occupation and working conditions.

Foot and Toe Stretching Exercises

When it comes to exercise to keep the body physically fit, the feet and toes should not be neglected. They are a complex network of bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tissues, and nerves that endures constant pressure and stress, making them susceptible to pain from injuries and general wear and tear.

Here are foot and toe strengthening and flexibility exercises suggested by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society to keep the feet and toes healthy and pain-free:

  • Toe squeeze: While sitting, place small corks between your toes, squeeze the toes and hold it for five seconds; repeat 10 times with each foot. This exercise is helpful for hammertoe and toe cramps.
  • Marble pick-up: First, sit down and spread 20 marbles across the floor in a small area. One marble at a time, pick up the marble using the toes and drop it into a bowl; finish all 20 marbles using one foot, then switch to the other foot. This exercise is helpful for hammertoe, toe cramps, and pain in the ball area of the forefoot.
  • Golf ball roll: To massage the bottom of the foot, roll a golf ball under the forefoot for two or more minutes while sitting; repeat with the other foot. This exercise is helpful for arch strain, foot cramps, and plantar fasciitis.
  • Toe raise, point, curl: While sitting, raise both feet onto the forefoot and hold for five seconds; point both feet onto the tips of the toes and hold for five seconds; finally, from a flat foot position, curl the toes of both feet under and hold for five seconds. These exercises are helpful for hammertoe and toe cramps. The toe curls are helpful for plantar fasciitis and shin splints as well.
  • Towel curls: This exercise is similar to the toe curl described above. While sitting, place a towel on the floor; use the toes of both feet to “pick up” the towel, curling it towards you; repeat five times, pausing in between each repetition for a rest. This exercise is helpful for hammertoe, toe cramps, and pain in the forefoot/ ball of foot area.
  • Toe pulls: Sit down and place a thick rubber band around all five toes; spread the toes and hold for five seconds, repeating the exercise 10 times; switch feet and do it again with the other foot. This exercise is helpful for bunions, hammertoe, and toe cramps.
  • Big toe pulls: In a seated position, put the two big toes next to one another and put a thick rubber band around both of them; pull them apart in a motion to separate them, moving each toe toward the little toes; hold the position for five seconds and repeat 10 times. This exercise is helpful for bunions and toe cramps.

In addition, walking barefoot on the beach provides the feet with a massage. Taking a stroll on the sand works out and strengthens the feet and toes.

Diabetic Foot Care

Diabetes, or hyperglycemia, is high blood glucose. If blood sugar levels are not normalized in a diabetic, the body may have trouble fending off infections due to decreased functioning of the immune system. This can affect the feet in particular due to peripheral artery disease (lack of circulation) and peripheral neuropathy (loss of feeling).

As a result of diabetes, the feet may become susceptible to a slew of problems, such as ulcers and wounds that do not heal properly, fungal infections, ingrown or brittle toenails, corns, calluses, hammertoes, athlete’s foot, and cracked or dry skin. Gangrene, or dead tissue, can develop, causing bacterial infections that may result in amputation of the affected areas. Even every day activities such as walking can cause issues in the feet of a diabetic, as the bones, joints, and skin are affected by the condition.

For the diabetic, proper and thorough foot care is imperative. Diabetics should check their feet daily for early detection of foot problems or injuries.

Here are proper foot care suggestions for diabetics to follow:

  • Keep feet clean, warm, and dry (thoroughly dry between toes)
  • Wear comfortable shoes and do not wear the same pair every day (look for roomy toe boxes, leather uppers, and shoes that do not pinch, rub, or cause pressure; avoid stiff shoes and gradually break-in new footwear)
  • Always wear clean, dry socks without tears or irritating seams (thin cotton is absorbent and helps keep feet dry)
  • Do not leave feet exposed or unprotected (sleep in loose socks; do not wear flip flops or sandals; do not go barefoot)
  • Never expose feet to heat or high water temperatures (burns can occur due to loss of feeling)
  • Maintain better foot circulation (do not smoke; avoid stockings or socks with tight elastic bands; do not cross feet or legs when sitting)
  • Treat the feet gently (pat dry; avoid cutting or tearing the skin)
  • Carefully shape toenails straight across with an emery board (avoid ingrown toenails)
  • Do not use over-the-counter foot products such as antiseptic solutions, plasters, tapes, or anything sticky (they can damage the skin and lead to wounds)
  • Use moisturizer to keep skin supple (except between toes)
  • Do not treat corns or calluses at home; see a doctor for care

It is important that diabetics seek podiatric care on a regular basis to prevent foot problems that can easily get out of control. A podiatrist will ensure proper foot care, from maintenance to the treatment of any developing problems. Any foot problem should be immediately addressed in a diabetic to avoid serious complications.