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Selecting Shoes When You Have Pain in Your Feet

If wearing pain-free clothing can help you cope better with fibromyalgia, CRPS/RSD or other pain conditions, is there footwear that can help with foot pain? We had to ask! Whether you have chronic foot pain or a pain condition that affects your feet, wearing shoes can hurt. 

So, we reached out to Dr. Elliot Udell, DPM, DAAPM, FASPM, FASPD, to get his expert opinion on shoes for foot pain. Here’s what he had to say:

PP: Why is wearing the proper footwear so important?

Dr. Udell: The footwear industry and the podiatric medical profession have for the most part been at odds with each other. The shoe industry is governed by fashion. We podiatrists are interested in making sure that people use footwear that is good for their feet.

If you already experience chronic pain, wearing the proper footwear is really important because wearing the wrong footwear can increase and intensify the pain and create more serious conditions. Ignoring the pain and continuing to wear unsupportive or ill-fitting footwear can also increase the chance of spreading and intensifying pain and causing damage to the rest of your body.

PP: When purchasing footwear, what features should people with foot pain look for in terms of support and comfort?

Dr. Udell: The important thing that people should look for when deciding on “healthy” footwear is that the shoes should not be too tight or constrictive, especially in the front. This applies to both men’s and women’s shoes. By this I do not mean the width of the shoes. Shoes that are narrow in the front and compress the toes can make bunions worse and can exacerbate conditions such as neuromas.

When choosing an athletic shoe or sneaker, one should make sure that there is enough support in the center of the arch. The best way to determine this is hold the front of the sneaker in one hand and back of the sneaker in the other hand and bend it. If the sneaker bends in the middle like a cooked noodle, it is not giving support in an essential area and that sneaker over time can lead to plantar fasciitis and other foot problems.

Another important piece of advice is to not go by brand. A specific brand of shoe or sneaker which might be perfect for me might be devastating for your feet. Go by what feels comfortable.

PP: What’s the best way to make sure shoes fit properly?

Dr. Udell: The advice I give most of my patients is to go into a really good sneaker or shoe store and work directly with the manager. This is especially true if the patient is having a foot problem.

The next thing to do is to take the sneakers or shoes home and wear them on a carpet and if they hurt bring them back.

An additional piece of advice I give my patients pertains to sneakers. If you find a specific type of sneaker that really fits well, buy six pair and put them away because in a year the company will most likely stop making them no matter how popular they are.

Dr. Elliot T. Udell is a fellow of both the American Society of Podiatric Medicine and the American Society of Podiatric Dermatology. He has extensive experience, knowledge and expertise and has frequently lectured at Podiatry seminars. His primary area of interest is in pain management of the foot and ankle where he treats heel pain, neuromas, neuropathy and complex regional pain syndrome. Dr. Udell is on the staff of North Shore University Hospital and is the author of a book and many articles on Pain Management of the foot.

PP: How can the wrong shoes contribute to pain?

Dr. Udell: If a person has a foot problem such as a bunion, hammer toe or a neuroma, wearing a tight shoe can exacerbate the problem and cause tremendous pain. Very often patients present at our office with a painful foot condition and by merely changing the type of shoes they were wearing we were able to alleviate most if not all of their pain.

Very often shoes alone cannot address all of a person’s foot problems. And the podiatrist will have to take impressions of a person’s feet and make a custom made orthotics to correct many foot problems. Here again, a sneaker or shoe should have enough room to accommodate a corrective orthotic.

PP: Are there good, less-expensive alternatives to custom orthotics?

Dr. Udell: In our practice, we often dispense over-the-counter inserts that vary only in size. For some conditions, however, the patient may need orthotics designed and manufactured from scratch. In those cases, either a set of plaster impressions must be taken or a computer scan of the foot and ankle and the lab will hand make great orthotics for that person.

PP: Are there certain types of footwear or brands that are suited for specific pain conditions?

Dr. Udell: Once again this makes the case for going to a good sneaker store and working directly with the manager who is an expert in choosing the right sneaker or walking shoe for you. I tell my patients never buy a shoe based on the brand. Go by what feels good.

Many years ago a certain shoe company promoted that their line of shoes were the best for all feet. I went out and purchased a pair and after suffering hours of pain, threw them out with a blessing. Wearing shoes that are painful can cause serious foot problems in both the short and long run.

Here are shoe brands our Facebook fans wear:

Thanks for the photo Christianne M.

“I love my Earth shoes! The negative heel is terrific and the styles I choose always have the give on the sides so when my feet swell, they grow with my feet. All my doctors approve of them as well!” – Sarah H.

Mephisto! All day, every day.” – Marsha R.

“I found Chung Shi sandals just wonderful and SAS shoes too.” – Lora S.

Birkenstock and Think! So comfy and supportive.” – Christianne M.

“I have found Alegria and Viontic both very useful brands of shoes. Alegria has options of a different foot bed (insole) if you need more depth.” – Becky M.

For more information on foot pain, read our articles on Unraveling the Mystery of Neuropathy and Managing Gout. And if you’re wondering if it’s okay to wear flip flops, check out Time to Ditch the Flip Flops … For Good!

How do you cope with shoes and foot pain? Please share your thoughts and any shoe brand suggestions below.

PainPathways Magazine

PainPathways Magazine

PainPathways is the first, only and ultimate pain magazine. First published in spring 2008, PainPathways is the culmination of the vision of Richard L. Rauck, MD, to provide a shared resource for people living with and caring for others in pain. This quarterly resource not only provides in-depth information on current treatments, therapies and research studies but also connects people who live with pain, both personally and professionally.

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