My Shoes and My Toe Pain

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Your shoes may look great, but they way they fit can have an even more profound effect on the way you feel: poorly-fitting shoes can lead to a number of foot conditions, many of them causing pain, discomfort, and even deformation in the toes.

Many people love the ease of flip-flop sandals, but the trade-off for their openness is the lack of support. Because they are so flat and provide no arch support, they can strain the tendons and muscles in the middle of the foot and in the toes, and because they’re so bare-bones in how they fit, they force your toes to scrunch with every step as they grip the sandal to keep it on. They’re useful for places like the poolside and public showers or locker rooms, where they provide simple protection you need, but for more extensive walking, choose sandals that have cradling structure and have straps or backs that allow the shoe to move with your foot.

Women often wear high heels — in some cases every day — which can cause problems in the ankles as well as toes. Because the elevation pushes the toes forward, placing more pressure on the front of the foot and squeezing them together, it can create or worsen conditions like bunions, hammer toes, and ingrown toenails. Constricting toes, especially at an angle, can create muscle imbalances as their mobility is limited for extended periods of time. People with circulatory problems or diabetes should be especially careful since toes that are jammed together reduce blood flow.

An outdated fit may be the source of foot pain: some people always wear the same size shoe even if they haven’t tried them on before buying, or because they’ve always worn that size. But feet change size and shape as we age, and shoes fit differently depending on the type and brand, so that size 8 slip-on may be too small while the wedge sandal could be too roomy — try on each pair before purchasing and consider having your feet measured every few years.

When trying on, look for pairs that leave about a half-inch of space between your toe and the end of the shoe. There shouldn’t be too much wiggle room in either the heel or toe that cause your feet to slide around. You should also consider aids like cushioning inserts or custom orthotics that provide support where it’s needed and evenly distribute pressure throughout the foot, away from the toe.

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