When it comes to feeling comfortable and warding off unwanted foot pain, the right pair of shoes can make all the difference. But what precautions should you be taking when shopping, and how can you spot a ‘good’ pair of shoes from sub-standard footwear that may damage your foot health in the long term?
Follow this handy checklist to ensure your next purchase provides you with the support you need.
Comfortable, well-fitting footwear must have:
A flexible yet robust sole
Because we typically walk from heel to toe, it’s important that the sole of each shoe is flexible enough to withstand the natural movement of your feet. Shoes with backs that are particularly stiff will be too restrictive and may even damage your gait or posture.
That said, the sole does need to be sturdy enough to ensure your ankle joints are stable, as this will prevent excessive pronation (which can lead to various injuries).
Your metatarsals – the five long, thin bones that run from the hind- to the mid- foot – are placed under a great deal of strain during everyday activities if they’re not provided with adequate support. Choosing a pair of shoes with extra arch padding can help to absorb much of the shock that occurs when walking or running, and can prevent the development of painful conditions like plantar fasciitis.
If your favourite footwear is lacking cushioning in this area, try inserting a pair of orthotic insoles into each shoe to address this shortfall. There should be no ‘breaking in’ period with sole orthotics, and you should feel markedly more comfortable from the moment you start wearing them.
Enough room for your toes
Your toes should never feel squished or restricted. If they are angled or squeezed together, you’re more likely to experience soreness and chafing (and, if you’ve got bunions, you’ll make your symptoms worse).
To avoid bending your toes into unnatural positions, leave around half an inch of space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the front of each shoe.
A low heel
We all know that prolonged use of high heels can wreak havoc with our foot health and lead to ankle strain, inflamed tendons, pinched nerves and even stress fractures. That’s why it’s always best to choose footwear with a low, wide heel. Doing so will ensure your weight is distributed more evenly throughout the shoe and that soreness in the forefoot is kept to a minimum.
It’s no good trying on a pair of uncomfortable shoes and convincing yourself that they will become easier to wear over time! Your new shoes need to be comfortable from the moment you slip into them. This applies to all kinds of footwear, from regular trainers to running shoes, and from flat ballet-style pumps to specialist work boots.
Also… don’t be restricted by ‘your’ size
Another thing to note is that you may need to try on shoes that are slightly smaller or larger than your normal size in order to ensure the perfect fit. For example, if you normally shop for a size 5, pop on a size 4 and a size 6 to see how the fit varies according to the shoe’s style or manufacture. You may find that a different sized shoe is more comfortable or supportive.
If you’re choosing a pair of shoes for a special occasion, and you know you’ll only be wearing them for a few hours, it’s OK to opt for style over comfort. But the rest of the time, you’ll need to make sure your everyday footwear meets all the criteria listed here if you want to avoid placing unnecessary strain on your feet.