Are You Wearing the Right Shoe Size?

Ill-fitting shoes can have negative consequences

Woman trying on shoes, unaware that ill-fitted shoes can have serious consequences
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Wearing ill-fitting shoes is more common than you may think, and can have significant negative consequences. These "side effects" of improperly fitting shoes can range from corns and callouses, to foot deformities, to falls, and even loss of independence. Spending a day in those cute (or attractive) shoes may seem like a minor infraction, but could lead to serious and potentially ongoing foot problems. Yet even when people think they are wearing good and sensible shoes, they could be at risk. If you've experienced foot pain from your shoes, and even if you haven't, learn about how common it is for shoes to fit poorly, the potential consequences, and what you should know going forward. Keep in mind that shoe size can change, even if you're 85 years old.

Poor Shoe Fit Is Common

We will address some of the medical problems associated with ill-fitting shoes, but it's important to first talk about the scope of this problem. From research to date, it's thought that only around 25 percent of people are actually wearing shoes of the right length and width. This is especially alarming when the studies were looking at elderly people. Not only do many older people have diabetes (with the risk of diabetic foot ulcers from pressure and rubbing in their shoes), but they may be at risk for falls and more. That said, even young people who are healthy and free from other medical conditions can be at risk from poorly fitting shoes.

Consequences of Ill-Fitting Shoes

Several studies have now demonstrated how ill-fitting shoes can have a negative effect on health and why well-fitting shoes are so important.

Neuropathy

A 2017 study looked at older people with a history of lesions such as corns and calluses—signs that indicate their feet are experiencing rubbing and pressure from their footwear. They found that only 14 percent were wearing the right shoes. Of those who had been wearing ill-fitting shoes, 37 percent had evidence of neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a painful and usually irreversible condition with symptoms of pins and needles (especially needles) in the feet and a decreased ability to sense (feel) where the feet are in space.

Unfortunately, other conditions that are more common in older people, such as diabetic neuropathy can work together with poorly fitting shoes to worsen both the symptoms and prognosis.

Peripheral neuropathy related to diabetes results in nearly 100,000 amputations a year in the U.S., and is the reason that people with diabetes (as well as other medical conditions) are told to not ignore burning feet or numb toes.

(Incidentally, only 12 percent of the participants checked their feet daily, and this is one of the ways to protect your feet if you have diabetes.)

Foot Pain and Deformities

It's not just neuropathy that can result from poorly fitting shoes. A 2018 review looked at 18 studies looking at shoes, feet, and problems. These studies included people of all ages, and those who had medical conditions such as diabetes as well as those who had no underlying medical problems. Of these people, 63 percent to 72 percent had shoes that fit improperly either with respect to length or width.

In the studies, poorly fitting shoes were associated with foot pain and foot conditions such as lesser toe deformity (hammer toes) and corns and calluses. Notably, people with diabetes (as well as those with Down syndrome) tended to wear shoes that were too narrow.

Quality of Life

From studies such as those noted, it's clear that improperly fitted shoes can lead to foot pain and foot disorders, but it's helpful to look at how these symptoms and conditions ultimately affect a person's quality of life.

Another 2018 study did just that. In this study, women in particular noted that foot symptoms negatively affected their quality of life.

Further Consequences

Foot pain, foot disorders such as neuropathy, and foot deformities, not to speak of quality of life are impacted by poorly fitted shoes, but to get a true picture of the impact, it's helpful to think about what this ultimately means, especially for older adults.

Foot pain and foot conditions related to bad shoes can alone lead to falls, reduced mobility, and a lower quality of life.

Ultimately, however, the consequences of poorly fitted footwear may interfere with a person's ability to remain independent in their golden years.

And the ability to remain independent is ranked very high on the list of goals for many older adults.

Reasons for Ill-Fitting Shoes

Poorly fitting shoes could be dismissed as an aftermath of the times or at least the current fashion trends; some shoes are simply not conducive to foot health. Yet even those who aren't opting for severe pointy toes or other such foot hazards, and are conscientious about good footwear are at risk. There are many reasons for this.

Shoe Size Changes

We often think of foot size as being static; once you reach age 18 or at least when you stop growing, your feet no longer change in size. That's simply not true as many women who have gone through pregnancy will attest. During pregnancy, women's feet are affected by hormones that often result in an increase in shoes size.

Age can change shoe size as well, and it's natural for shoe size to change with age.

Tendons relax and feet naturally spread. With certain medical conditions and medications that cause water retention, feet may swell as well.

Even in young people, feet swell slightly by the end of the day. They also swell when people engage in an upright activity such as walking, running, or playing sports. While your shoes may fit right in the morning or before your workout, they may be too tight later in the day.

How Often Should Shoe Size Be Checked?

There's not a one size fits all answer to the ideal frequency of foot measurements. If you haven't had your shoes fitted by a professional in some time, it's certainly worth the trip.

Some experts recommend that you measure your feet at least once or twice a year, or at least anytime you buy new shoes.

As noted, becoming pregnant, starting a new medication, or being diagnosed with a new medical condition may change your shoe size.

Don't Forget Other Foot Attire

While you are taking care of your feet by having them measured and buying well-fitting shoes, it's important to remember other items that can affect your foot health. People may also develop foot problems from bad inserts. In addition, choosing good socks that fit well in your shoes is a must.

A Word From Verywell

It's very clear that buying shoes that fit well can reduce the risk of foot problems, and, for older adults or people with diabetes, may be the difference between a good quality of life living independently and the alternative.

There are many causes of foot pain, so if your feet are hurting now, it's important to make an appointment to see your doctor. Given the statistics, however, there's a good chance that you've been wearing ill-fitting shoes. Whether your feet hurt or not, take the time to have your feet properly measured and purchase shoes that will go the distance. If you hesitate at the cost, think of what you pay for good tires. Shoes are often less expensive than tires, and your life is more important than the life of your car.

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