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Foot Problems: Finding the Right Shoes


Footwear plays a large role in the development of foot and toe problems such as bunions, calluses and corns, and hammer, claw, and mallet toes. Shoes that don't fit properly make these conditions worse and more painful. But wearing the right shoes may help keep foot problems from becoming worse.

A comfortable, well-fitted shoe offers you the best chance of:

  • Relieving pain in the foot or toe that is caused by a deformity or joint problem.
  • Preventing a foot or toe problem from getting worse.
  • Preventing a toe joint problem from returning after corrective surgery.

Before shopping for shoes for your foot problem, ask your foot doctor for recommendations.

How do you find the right shoes?

What to look for

Here are some things to look for when shopping for a shoe that won't make foot or toe problems worse:

  • A low heel. Avoid high-heeled, narrow, or pointed-toe shoes. High-heeled shoes increase pressure on the front of the foot and on the toe joints. If you cannot avoid wearing pumps or high-heeled shoes, choose shoes with heels that are no more than 2 in. (5 cm) high.
  • A wide and deep toe box (the area that surrounds the toes). There should be about 0.5 in. (1.3 cm) of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. You should be able to wiggle your toes in your shoes.
  • A shoe that has a soft but rigid back to keep your heel from slipping out.
  • A sole that doesn't hurt. For some people this means a flexible sole that allows your toes to bend as you walk. For other people, a firm sole that helps the joints stay straight is more comfortable.
  • A shoe that allows the ball of your foot to fit snugly into the widest part of the shoe.
  • A shoe with laces, Velcro, or a zipper rather than a slip-on shoe. Athletic shoes are a good choice.
  • Shoes that breathe when your feet sweat. Avoid plastic or vinyl shoes.
  • Shoes that do not have seams that may rub against or irritate the skin over your foot problem.

Tips for shopping

Most people will be able to find a shoe that causes little or no pain and allows them to function. Here are some tips for shopping for shoes when you have foot problems.

  • Try on shoes at the end of the day.

    This is when your feet are at their largest due to normal swelling.

  • Bring shoe inserts or orthotics with you, if you have them.

    Test them out in various shoes.

  • Try a sandal or athletic shoe.

    A lighter shoe that doesn't rub on an existing bunion, callus or corn, or hammer, claw, or mallet toe may be more comfortable.

  • Have both feet measured.

    This ensures a good fit and identifies if one foot is larger. Fit your shoes according to how the larger foot feels in the shoe. Shoe size, especially width, may change with age.

  • Stand and walk around during the fitting process.

    This can help you get an accurate sense of the fit.

  • Pay attention to how a shoe feels, not the shoe size.

    If a shoe feels right but isn't your normal size, you can ignore the size and go for the right fit.

  • Have shoes stretched or modified if needed.

    If a particular shoe fits snugly, the clerk may be able to stretch the shoe for a better fit. Check with a shoe repair shop to see if they can make other changes to your shoes to make them more comfortable. You should not have to "break in" shoes if they fit properly.

Ask your doctor what else to think about when you choose a shoe. This is especially important if you are at a high risk of falling.


Current as of: July 17, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.