Feet come in all shapes and sizes. Shoes also come in many shapes and sizes, but it is not always easy for everyone to find the right shoe for them. When choosing a shoe it is important to have a good look at your own foot to ensure that it really is going to fit comfortably in to the shoe you have selected.
What to consider about your own feet…
The length of your feet when standing up
Many people have one foot longer than the other so it is important to make sure you fit the shoes to the longer foot. When you stand up and are walking your foot lengthens somewhat at certain times during gait, so always walk around in the shoes you are trying on. You need around a 1cm gap between your longest toe (big toe or 2nd toe usually) and the end of the shoe when you are standing to ensure your toes wont hit the end of the shoe when walking.
The width of your forefoot
Typically the widest part of the forefoot is where the toes meet the foot (the metatarsophalangel joints). If a person has a bunion (where the joint of either the big toe or little toe protrudes) the foot can be very wide and
finding shoes to fit can become difficult.
The width of the foot at the toes
Some people’s toes splay and create a squarer shape, whereas others curve a bit and make a more rounded shape. It is important to look at the shape of the toebox of the shoe and try to make sure your toes are going to fit in to it without being squashed.
The height of your toes
This may sound a bit strange, but while some people have straight toes which are thus not very high, others have toes that curl down (hammer toes or claw toes) which means that the knuckle sticks up. These knuckles can very easily rub on the top of a shoe if the toe box is not deep enough. It is also important to note that if you wear a shoe that does not stay on the foot properly it is necessary to claw your toes to try to hold the shoe on.
The height of your instep
This is the area on top of your foot above your arch. People who have low arches have low insteps, and
people who have high arches have high insteps. Shoes that have laces, buckles or velcro over the instep are
great because they can be adjusted to suit you, but if they don’t they have the potential to be too roomy, or
too tight to the point that you may not be able to get them on.
The width of your heel
This is the area at the back of the ankle. If you have a wide heel and try to fit it in to a shoe with a narrow
heel you will potentially end up with areas that dig in and rub on the heel. Conversely, putting a narrow heel
in to a shoe with a wide heel will mean the heel slips out of the shoe and you will need to claw your toes or
change your gait to keep the shoe on.
If you are prone to foot swelling or oedema it may be worth choosing a shoe that can be made tighter or looser (using laces, buckles or velcro) depending on the amount of swelling your are experiencing. It is advised to shop for your shoes later in the day when your feet may have some swelling to ensure that you don’t choose a shoe that is too tight.
So now that we’ve had a good look at your feet and thus the style of shoe you need to aim for, it’s time to
have a look at the construction of the shoe…
What to look for in a shoe
The shoe should bend at the toe – and nowhere else!
If you hold the shoe at the heel and the toe and try to bend it in half, the shoe should bend where the toes would bend. The shoe shouldn’t bend in the middle where the arch is. Having the shoe bend where the toes do is obviously going to make it more comfortable, and it also prevents the heel from slipping out of the back of the shoe. (This is a common reason why children find new school shoes rub at the back of the ankle – it can take a few wears before the sole softens up and bends easily at the toe, so the heel slips out at the back and rubs. The new hard leather around the back of the heel doesn’t help either.) If a shoe bends in the middle it is not giving enough support at the arch.
The shoe shouldn’t twist too much
You can test this by holding the shoe at the heel and at the toe and trying to twist it one way and then the
other. A small amount of movement is necessary, but a shoe that twists too much is not supportive for the
The materials used in the shoe’s construction
Leather is one of the most common and best materials used for shoe construction. Being a natural material it breathes, and it also has the potential to stretch slightly to accommodate the shape of your foot, although it is important that it doesn’t stretch too much and thus reduce stability. It can also be quite strong to provide good protection for the foot. People who have very wide feet, bunions or clawed toes often benefit from wearing shoes which have soft, flexible materials used in the toe box or instep area to prevent too much pressure being put on the foot by the shoe. Neoprene (wet suit material) is commonly used for this purpose.
A firm heel counter
The heel counter is the area of the shoe around the back and sides of the heel. If you squeeze this area at the sides, or try to push it down from the top, it shouldn’t move too much. This gives the ankle and heel support and stability when walking. The heel counter can still be cushioned whilst remaining firm, this can make it more comfortable and reduce friction. The higher the heel counter is (the further it comes up around the ankle) the more support it will give to the ankle.
The sole of the shoe
The shoe’s sole will vary greatly depending on what the shoe is intended for. The main thing to be wary of are soles that are too slippery or soles that are too grippy. Whilst the repercussions of a slippery sole are obvious, a sole that grips to much on a surface such as carpet can also potentially cause a person to fall. Think about what surfaces you will be walking on and make sure the sole is appropriate for it. Whilst a cushioned sole may feel more comfortable to walk on, if it is too cushioned it can actually give you less stability and balance, so aim for only a moderate amount of cushioning if any.
Adjustable straps / buckles / velcro / laces
Having shoes that have the potential to be tightened or loosened to fit to your foot are best. This minimises the potential for them to rub because of being too tight, or slip off due to being too loose. The are especially useful for people who experience variable amounts of swelling in the feet.
The height of the heel
This can be a controversial subject. Wearing a shoe with a heel changes not only the foots posture and function, but also the posture of the whole body. The body weight is shifted primarily on to the ball of the foot, and the toes are forced in to the end of the shoe. The ankle is flexed downwards reducing it’s moblity. The position of the knees, pelvis and lower back are all altered which can potentially cause pain in these areas. The higher the heel, the greater these effects are. It is thus recommended to wear ‘flat’ shoes with only a small heel (1” or so). If you must wear heels, keep them wider rather than thinner, and lower rather than higher, try to aim for a maximum of 5cm. Wedge heels also give more stability as there is more sole of the shoe in contact with the ground. Try not to wear high heels if you are walking long distances, such as to and from work; keep them for times when you will be mostly sitting down. Try not to wear high heels every day – wearing them regularly can cause the calf muscles to contract, and this can then make wearing flat shoes uncomfortable.
The weight of the shoe
This can be of concern to elderly people in particular, when wearing a slightly heavier shoe can feel like dragging around lumps of concrete. It is possible to find lightweight shoes that still offer stability and protection for the feet.
Suitability for Orthotics
People who wear orthotics have to be particularly choosy about what style of shoe they buy. It is possible to have orthotics made that can be fitted in to a wide range of shoes, but there are some general things to look out for. The shoe needs to have a reasonably deep heel counter to fit the orthotic in to. An orthotic does take up some room in the bottom of the shoe and can thus cause the heel to lift out of the back of the shoe if the heel counter is not deep enough. The shoe needs to be wide enough to accommodate the orthotic. Orthotics can be made quite narrow, but the wider they are the more support they will be able to give. This instep (vamp) of the shoe also needs to be deep enough (or be adjustable with laces/velcro/buckle) as an orthotic is usually designed to support and lift the arch which makes the foot sit higher in the shoe.
These recommendations for choosing footwear are meant as a general guide only, and if you have any particular concern it is advised that you speak to a podiatrist or footwear professional about your situation personally. These guidelines are for adults, as children’s feet are still growing and have different needs. You can see our Children’s Feet Fact Sheet for recommendations on children’s footwear. At Soul Podiatry we are happy to speak to you about your footwear needs and recommend suitable footwear styles for you.