Finding Footwear for Heel Pain
A good pair of shoes is usually one of the best defenses you have against a bad case of heel pain.
That’s not to say you won’t also need a more “hands-on” treatment strategy, such as physical therapy, orthotics, or laser therapy. Each situation is different, and not every case of heel pain can be handled entirely at home.
But even in cases where extra treatment is required, simply wearing appropriate shoes at the appropriate times is almost always an important part of your ongoing heel pain management and prevention strategy.
As you are no doubt aware, of course, not all shoes are created equal when it comes to heel pain! And at a unique time in history such as the one we’re currently living through, getting the shoes you need can come with some added challenges.
We’ll deal with that in just a bit. First:
What Kinds of Shoes Should I Look For?
Let’s start with the basics. There are a few things you should always look for and never compromise on, whether you have heel pain symptoms or not:
- The fit. Don’t try to squeeze your feet into shoes that are too big, too small, or too tight in the wrong places. They might look cool, but they’ll hurt your feet! Shoes should be comfortable to wear from the minute you put them on. Look for something that’s snug (but not too tight) in the heel, wide enough for the ball of your foot and your toes, and around half an inch of “wiggle space” between the front of the shoe and the longest toe.
- The activity. Shoes should always be appropriate for the activities you plan to perform in them. You wouldn’t run a marathon in a pair of steel-toed work boots, would you? Different activities place different kinds of forces on your feet and ankles, and you want activity-specific and sport-specific shoes that can meet those challenges.
Now, for heel pain specifically, there might be a few other features you want to look out for:
- Great arch support. Arch support can actually be more important for heel pain than heel cushioning. That’s because the most common form of heel pain, plantar fasciitis, is the result of overstretching and tearing in the plantar fascia ligament which supports the arch.
- A firm heel counter. The heel counter is the hard, usually plastic insert that reinforces the back of the heel in a shoe. A firm one helps minimize stretching and strain on the heel, reducing pain. Push on the sides of the heel of the shoe—they shouldn’t fold easily!
- A rigid midfoot. A nice, thick, firm midfoot (with good cushioning) will go a long way toward dampening impact forces and keeping them from transferring to the heel. Grab both ends of the shoe and try to twist it—you shouldn’t be able to! A “rocker bottom” sole can also be a good choice for heel pain conditions like plantar fasciitis.
So what makes a bad shoe for heel pain? A few examples:
- Shoes that doesn’t fit or aren’t appropriate for your chosen activity.
- Shoes and other footwear with no arch support (flats, flip flops, etc.)
- Shoes that were once good, but have worn out. Old shoes might seem comfy and familiar, but over time the midsoles compress and they can’t cushion your feet nearly as well as they did when they were new.
Shoe Shopping in an Age of COVID-19
Now, under normal circumstances we’d recommend that you always do your shoe shopping in person. There’s really no substitute for being able to test a fit yourself. Shoes that may claim to be the same size can have subtle differences that affect the fit for you personally. And if a shoe isn’t comfortable, it doesn’t fit.
However, it may not be possible or practical to go out and try on shoes at a time like this, depending on state and local ordinances, company policies, and your own personal comfort level with being in public.
If you are able to go to a shoe store and try on shoes, be sure to wear a mask, practice good social distancing, and bring along some hand sanitizer to use before and after trying on shoes, using the shoe sizer, etc. Always do your best to follow the recommended guidelines of the CDC and local and state governments in order to protect yourself and others.
If curbside pickup or online shopping are your only safe or legal options, try to limit yourself to retailers with very generous return policies. While we certainly hope you “nail” the fit on the first try, we can’t recommend that you stick with ill-fitting shoes simply because returning them is an inconvenience.
If you continue to wear shoes that don’t fit, your feet will start to complain—and that’s going to end up costing you more over the long term in terms of your personal comfort (and maybe even the need for appointments with our office!)
Effective (and Safe) Heel Pain Treatment Options Are Just a Call Away
If you need any guidance on what to look for in a pair of shoes, or just need help for a nagging foot problem, don’t wait until the pain becomes unbearable—call Capital Podiatry Associates right away! We are open and here to care for you.
While a great pair of shoes can be a big help, sometimes a complete solution for your heel pain isn’t possible without additional treatments, such as custom orthotics or laser therapy. But to figure out what combination of treatments is going to work best for your heels, we’ll need to take a closer look at just what’s causing your pain.
We’ll always go above and beyond to get you the care you need while keeping your health and safety at the top of the priority list. Call our office at (703) 560-3773, or connect with us online.