Do your feet hurt? Do you know the importance of good shoes? It’s been estimated that a person walks about 110,000 miles in their lifetime – a distance comparable to walking around the world almost five times! Now imagine taking all those steps in the shoes you are currently wearing.
The connection between foot health and footwear is undeniable: shoes can help or harm our feet. At MOSH, our orthopedic specialists have experience decreasing your foot pain and correcting deformities caused by shoes. You can also prevent major foot damage by learning which shoes to avoid and the major foot problems caused by shoes.
Understanding Your Feet
Tens of thousands of years ago, we walked, ran, and hunted without shoes. However, a 40,000-year-old human fossil was discovered to have delicate toe bones, indicative of habitual shoe-wearing. This evidence means that humans have relied on an accessory to protect or otherwise encase our feet for a significant percentage of the time modern humans have been around. Love or hate them, shoes aren’t going anywhere, so we must choose footwear that won’t cause too many problems. The first step is understanding what our feet need.
The human foot has 26 bones, 30 joints, and over 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Our feet are very sensitive, too. Each foot has over 7,000 nerve endings that relay needed information like surface stability, temperature, and slope. These elements work together to allow us to make complex movements needed for walking, standing, and keeping our balance.
Our feet do more than enable movement. They bear our weight, act as shock absorbers, and provide the foundation on which the rest of our skeleton is balanced. When our feet aren’t healthy, our entire body is affected even beyond the impact on gait, balance, stability, and range of motion. Our legs, hips, and other structures will overcompensate or misalign in response to foot pain, injury, or deformity. One of the first interventions to relieve back pain is to wear shoes that support the feet and take pressure off the pelvis and spine. When our feet are happy and healthy, the rest of our joints and skeletal system benefit.
Our feet need to be protected and supported, which is why proper footwear is so important for our overall health.
6 Foot Problems Caused by Shoes
Improper footwear is one reason we experience foot pain, foot damage, and deformity. Here are the most common injuries associated with improper footwear.
Bunions (Hallux Valgus) happen when the bone at the bottom of the big toe enlarges. This “knob” can force your foot to turn inwards, creating pain and swelling. Women who wear narrow shoes are more likely to get bunions, but they can happen to anyone. You can help avoid bunions by switching out shoes with narrow toe boxes for wider or square toe boxes. Bunions can be treated non-surgically or with a surgical procedure called a bunionectomy.
2. Fractures, Sprains, and Strains
Chances of slips, trips, falls, and missteps are increased when wearing improper footwear. In addition, any fracture can happen, especially in ill-fitting shoes. Damage to the ligaments and tendons of the foot and ankle (strains and sprains) happens when shoes lack proper tread or are difficult to walk in. These injuries can take days to weeks to heal properly.
Hammertoe occurs when the muscle weakens and the tendon pulls the joint of the second toe upwards. Extremely flexible flat shoes or high heels can make a hammertoe, and regular shoes can create calluses or corns on these toes that increase pain.
4. Claw Toes
Claw toes are characterized by one to four toes on the foot curling into an inflexible claw shape. Pain is usually felt when wearing shoes because the toes are in an unnatural position. Ulcers can form on the toes from friction made by shoes, as well as the development of corns or calluses. Claw toes are usually the result of neurological conditions or ill-fitting shoes.
Hammertoes and claw toes can be fixed with non-invasive treatments like strapping and wearing shoes with a wide toe box. However, surgery may be recommended if these methods fail to correct the deformity.
5. Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is caused by the inflammation of the plantar fascia, a strong band of tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot. Over 2 million people experience plantar fasciitis, the most common cause of heel pain. Inflammation occurs from overuse, standing on a hard surface for too long, age, and wearing unsupportive shoes like flip flops or overly flexible flats or sneakers.
6. Diabetic Feet
Diabetics are at risk for many foot conditions ranging from a lack of sensitivity to amputation from serious infection. A common complication of diabetes is peripheral neuropathy (PN), which causes pain and numbness in the foot. Diabetics with PN are encouraged to be very careful with their choice of footwear because they are susceptible to infection from wounds and cuts that go unnoticed and poor foot circulation. Diabetics should avoid narrow or ill-fitting shoes and need to consult with their doctors for other footwear recommendations.
How to Prevent Foot Pain with the Right Footwear
Medical experts know they will never convince the general public to stop wearing high-fashion shoes in exchange for orthopedic alternatives. Instead, doctors educate people about foot health and advocate for moderation and personal mindfulness when selecting shoes. Foot problems caused by shoes can be prevented by making smarter choices when selecting footwear.
Make Sure You’re Wearing the Right Shoe for the Right Activity
Many shoes are made for a specific purpose. You can prevent athletic injuries by wearing the right shoe for the sport, like baseball cleats and soccer shoes. Closed-toed, heavy-duty boots help prevent accidents like foot fractures on work sites. Nature-lovers can avoid ankle sprains by wearing hiking boots or shoes with good tread and ankle support when you walk on rocky surfaces or hike. Don’t go barefoot on hard surfaces like wooden floors, which can lead to overuse injuries.
Choose Better High-Heel Practices
If you’re a frequent wearer of high heels, it’s best to limit the amount of time you spend in these shoes. Look for thicker heels, wedges, or heels shorter than three inches, which will decrease pressure on the ball of the foot, arch, and strain on your hips and back. These simple changes will help prevent common orthopedic conditions in women, like bunions, hammertoe, sprains, and more.
Get the Right Shoe Size
Your foot can change shape and size as you age, so be sure to get your feet measured when you need to buy new shoes. Trying on shoes later in the day, when your feet are likely to be more swollen from use, will ensure you don’t by shoes that are too small and tight.
Get Rid of Worn-Out Shoes
Our urge may be to keep our shoes until the soles are worn through, but by this time, they have likely degraded to the point of causing foot pain and discomfort. Shoes are meant to protect and support our feet. If your shoes are beginning to wear, but can’t bear to part with them yet, consider adding insoles or getting them re-soled. Shoes that don’t pad our feet can cause plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and tendonitis, changing our stride and natural structure alignment.
What to Look for When Shoe Shopping
When shopping for new shoes, don’t rely too much on size, which can be inconsistent from brand to brand. Instead, try the shoes on, walk around, and pay attention to how they feel. Let your comfort be your guide. The ask yourself the following questions:
- Are the soles sturdy?
- Will they protect you when you step on sharp objects?
- If the heel is elevated, is your weight evenly distributed, and is your ankle secure?
- Are you at a higher risk of tripping or falling?
- Does the footbed of the shoe match the shape of your foot?
- Make sure the arch support suits the structure of your foot. For example, how do your other joints feel when you are walking?
The bottom line is to use common sense. If your answers to these questions are negative, select an alternative pair of shoes.
We are all built differently and are challenged by our circumstances. Therefore, foot health cannot be prescribed with a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re suffering foot pain or discomfort, contact our experts at MOSH. Remember, the foot is one of the most complex structures in the human body. Your feet impact and are impacted by all the other joints in your body. If you have questions about footwear or foot health, schedule an appointment with a MOSH orthopedic specialist. If you have an urgent foot injury, visit the Performance Center Ortho Walk-In Clinic with convenient evening and weekend hours.
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