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Shoes! Glorious shoes! From well-worn flip-flops to fluorescent gym tennies to sharp-toed stilettos, for many women, the love affair with footwear is real. But, the love affair can turn toxic when common sense takes a back seat to style. Foot and ankle specialist Valerie Tallerico, DPM, UnityPoint Health, explains how to select healthy shoes.
“I have many patients regretting how often they wore a specific shoe, like a heel, in the past because of the ongoing foot issues doing so led to,” Dr. Tallerico says. “Inappropriate shoe gear can cause many complaints when it comes to foot pain.”
Pain is a huge symptom the shoes you love don’t love you back. So are areas of redness, blisters, calluses or tingling in your feet or toes. Tripping or catching a toe when walking in high heels or unfamiliar shoes can bring on ankle sprains, tendon tears and fractures.
Dr. Tallerico says she regularly treats foot injuries caused, or made worse by, shoe choice. These injuries include calluses, heel pain, ball-of-foot pain, inflammation of joints, ankle sprains, bunions, hammertoes, ingrown toenails, athlete’s foot and even nerve disorders and muscle and tendon problems.
So, does having healthy feet mean never donning a strappy wedge again? Not necessarily.
“We often wear shoes to complete the outfit or fit the part, and that’s understandable. It’s fun to wear barely-there sandals to show off a new pedicure or slip into sky-high heels for a special evening out. Just don’t let the occasional decision to put fashion-before-function become the norm. While heels and sandals are bad for feet, it’s okay every once in a while. It’s knowing when to wear them and only wearing them for short duration,” Dr. Tallerico says.
The best way to avoid shoe-related foot problems is to buy properly-fitting, well-made shoes.
“When shopping, think beyond the moment’s fashion to your foot’s long-term future. The sooner you support your feet, the more likely your feet will be healthier and feel better when you age,” Dr. Tallerico says.
“Healthy shoes are comfortable when trying them on. Don’t assume they will stretch out or fit better once you get home and ‘break them in.’ If it doesn't seem right, hurts or rubs somewhere, don’t buy it,” Dr. Tallerico says.
Some of the simplest footwear can be the worst contributor to foot pain. As easy as they are to toss on, flip flops are bad for feet.
“Sandals and flip flops tend to have little support and stabilization for the foot in general and cause a lot of foot problems. You may find some decent sandals to wear that may be adequate, depending on style and brand, but typically, the cheaper the sandal, the cheaper the shoes, the less support the shoe has. Flip flops are like wearing a piece of cardboard strapped to your foot when walking. This is literally doing nothing for your feet in terms of support or protection,” Dr. Tallerico says.
Another summer-related foot hazard: injuries caused by the environment.
“Rivers, sand, cement, even grass can lead to injuries, puncture wounds, foreign bodies and burns, especially if you’re barefoot or wearing sandals or flip flops. Choose the appropriate shoe for the appropriate activity,” Dr. Tallerico says.
One footwear movement that has Tallerico kicking up her heels is “athleisure wear.” More choices in colorful and stylish athletic shoes have many women wearing these healthy shoes for more social and work-related occasions.
“Athletic shoes provide stability, arch support and overall support needed for the foot, as well as the remaining lower extremity and body. This is especially helpful for activities such as walking, getting up from sitting to standing or standing for prolonged periods on concrete surfaces,” Dr. Tallerico says.
When it comes to foot problems from shoes, men’s shoes can be just as bad as women’s shoes causing pain, calluses, blisters and athlete’s foot, to name a few.
“Many different types of casual shoes available for men are stylish and lightweight, easy to get on and a flattering choice, but they lack support or a good sole. Common male complaints we see include heel pain and pain in general,” Dr. Tallerico says.
The same rules apply for smart shoe choices for men as for women:
Dr. Tallerico says patients should see their health care provider if foot problems from shoes persist longer than a couple of days, for foot injuries, such as a rolled ankle, or if foot pain is limiting their daily activities or ability to work.