Foot and ankle pain can stem from a long list of potential causes, and changing your footwear won’t heal a serious orthopedic condition — but not changing your footwear can make it much worse.
At Tuscaloosa Orthopedic & Joint Institute in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dr. Bryan King and Dr. Jeffrey Cuomo diagnose and treat all types of foot and ankle problems daily. The one thing all of these conditions have in common is that the proper footwear is part of the solution.
Here, they explain which shoe features help ease foot and ankle pain.
Some shoes cause foot and ankle pain even if you have no medical condition. Perfectly healthy feet and ankles can become sore and painful if you wear unsupportive footwear like flip-flops, flats, and very soft, flexible shoes.
If you have foot deformities, tendonitis, or metatarsalgia (pain in the ball of the foot), these ill-fitting shoes can exacerbate your condition, increase your pain, and delay healing.
Most of our patients would rather hear that they need medication or surgery than that they need to ditch their favorite shoes. We get it. Shoes are part of your style, and your closet is full of various options that go with different outfits and are suitable for a range of activities.
Whether you’re an athlete, an office worker, a fashion model, or all three, you can choose shoes that fit your lifestyle and don’t wreck your foot and ankle health. Here are some features to look for.
When your feet hurt, you may instinctively search for soft, cushiony, flexible shoes, but that’s the wrong move. They may feel luxurious when you slip them on, but the lack of support places excess stress on your painful feet and ankles, worsening your condition.
Do the bend test. Grab the shoe with the toe in one hand and the heel in the other, then twist and bend it. If it collapses easily and contorts without resistance, it’s no good for your feet.
In general, a wooden-soled clog offers better support than a pillowy-soft slip-on. We’re not suggesting you start wearing clogs, but keep the concept in mind when you’re shoe shopping.
One exception to the stiff-sole rule is if you have a very rigid foot. Extremely high arches fare better in shoes with a little more give, strategic cushioning, and solid support.
Mesh, calfskin, and other flexible materials allow your feet and toes to move freely. This is especially important if you have bunions, hammertoes, or other foot deformities.
To reduce rubbing, look for shoes with minimal design elements, such as straps, hooks, and sewn-in logos.
If you love your stilettos, this rule might hurt. High heels cause foot and ankle pain by throwing your alignment out of balance and concentrating the force of your body weight onto your forefoot by 25%.
This changes your posture, center of gravity, and gait, leading to foot problems like hammertoes, bunions, and neuromas. It also causes a chain reaction of ankle, knee, hip, and back pain.
Stick to slight or neutral heel heights, and avoid negative heels or “zero drop” features that can exacerbate heel pain and Achilles tendonitis.
In dress shoes, men should look for thick soles and a slight heel, and women should opt for platform wedges with no more than a two-inch differential between the toe and the heel. Genuine leather is better than synthetic materials because it flexes with your foot without binding.
Sandals, by definition, are minimalist footwear, which means that most of them don’t support your feet and do contribute to poor posture. However, if you must wear them, look for brands that offer sturdy support and cradle your arch.
Also, choose sandals with ankle straps over the flip-flop style, so your foot stays in constant contact with the sandal.
Depending on the underlying cause of your pain, Drs. King and Cuomo develop a personalized treatment plan to resolve the problem. Sometimes this involves physical therapy, medication, custom orthotics, or even surgery, but it always involves a critical look at your footwear.
Call us at 205-391-4440 or send us a message here on our website to schedule an appointment and discover what’s causing your foot and ankle pain and how we can help.