Preventing Foot Problems
Poorly fitting shoes are a leading cause of foot problems. Learn how to get the right fit and get more tips to keep your feet healthy.

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Preventing Foot Problems

We rely on our feet to get us places and carry us through our day. In fact, the average person walks thousands of miles during their lifetime. Yet most foot problems are caused by abuse from ill-fitting shoes.

First and foremost, your feet are not supposed to hurt. If you have persistent pain from constantly aching feet, you should see your doctor and get a thorough foot examination. Foot problems in the United States today cost more than $3.5 billion a year, with one in seven Americans reporting trouble with their feet.

People with diabetes are at particular risk of foot problems and should have a foot checkup at least once a year. Simple ailments like blisters or small cuts can turn into bigger problems quickly. For that reason, those with diabetes should see a doctor at the first sign of a foot injury or discomfort. People with diabetes who have peripheral neuropathy, or decreased sensation in their extremities, should self-examine their feet daily.

While your primary care physician can diagnose and treat many foot ailments, you may be referred to a podiatrist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosis and treatment of conditions involving the foot) or an orthopedic surgeon (one who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders).

But many common foot problems can be prevented. It all starts with a good fit. Let's look at some things you can do to avoid a trip to the doctor.

Choose footwear that fits your foot
Here are some general recommendations from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons for choosing properly fitting shoes:

  • Try on new shoes toward the end of the day. Feet can swell if you're standing or sitting all day. Be sure to try new shoes on both feet, as it's common for one foot to be slightly larger than the other. Fit the shoes to your largest foot.
  • Have both feet measured while standing each time you buy shoes. Did you know your feet tend to grow as you get older?
  • Buy for the best fit, not for a preferred size. Sizes can vary by brand. (By the way, you don't "break in" shoes that are too small!)
  • Leave about one-half inch from your longest toe to the end of the shoe. You should be able to easily wiggle all your toes.
  • Walk around on different surfaces to make sure they're the right size. Your heel should not slip or slide.
  • A few words about high heels. Many styles have a pointy, narrow toe box that crams the toes into a triangular shape. The higher the heel, the more pressure is placed on the ball and front of your foot. This can cause lower back pain, knee pain and bunions - painful lumps of bone usually at the base of the big toe. Avoid heels higher than 2 1/4 inches. Keep comfortable flats at work if necessary.

Wear the right shoes for your activity
If you stand or walk a lot at work, soft-soled shoes may be more comfortable than hard leather.

Sandals and flip-flops offer limited support. If you wear them, try alternating them daily with a more supportive shoe.

Walking is a great exercise for your feet. It may also contribute to your general health by improving circulation, lowering blood pressure, aiding weight control and promoting all-around well-being. Even if you're doing just moderate-intensity walking, you should wear a proper shoe for the task.

Experts offer these tips for finding the right shoe for walking and other physical activity:

  • Wear appropriate, properly fitted athletic shoes whenever you exercise.
  • If possible, shop for shoes at a store that carries items specific to your activity - walking, golf, aerobics, etc. Or do online research to find out what shoes are best suited to your needs.
  • Walk around the store on various surfaces to test the fit.
  • As with other shoes, try them on at the end of the day. Wear a sock similar to what you'll wear when you're doing your activity. Try on both shoes.
  • Make sure the shoe grips the heel to provide stability.
  • To be sure of a good fit, tighten laces to secure your foot.
  • Make sure you have ample room to wiggle your toes.

Once you're out being active, listen to your body. Limit activity if you have pain in your feet or ankles. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new physical routine.

Take care of your feet
Shoes will be more comfortable and your feet will feel better with some simple grooming. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Trim your toenails straight across with clippers specially designed for the purpose. Curved edges can promote the growth of ingrown toenails.
  • Leave toenails slightly longer than the tips of your toes.
  • Thick and discolored toenails can signal a fungal infection, which should be treated.
  • Maintain proper moisture, using enriched lotions if necessary to avoid rough skin and extreme dryness.
  • Don't walk barefoot. You could pick up splinters or hurt your feet.

People with diabetes or conditions that affect circulation or sensation must be extra careful. Talk with your doctor about what type of foot care is right for you!

By Ginny Greene, Editor
Created on 12/06/1999
Updated on 01/28/2013
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Athletic shoes.
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Footwear guide.
  • American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes - 2013.
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