Shoes and Your Aching Feet

If your feet are a pain in your life—take a look at the shoes that you are wearing. Do you spend your days wearing high heels? Do your shoes really fit? When was the last time you had your feet measured before you bought a new pair of shoes?

A woman with her heels off rubbing the back of her ankle
Seb Oliver / Getty Images

Paying Big Bucks for Shoes that Hurt

A published survey found that most women are tired of wearing shoes that hurt their feet. The women in the survey paid from $50 to $200 for the shoes that are hurting them.

  • High heel shoes and improperly fitted shoes can cause problems, such as bunions, heel pain, deformed toes, and even nerve damage.
  • Flats are a big issue too because they don't provide arch support. You can add foot orthotics to help correct your heel position and give support to the arch of your foot.

Not only does wearing improper shoes hurt your feet, but it can also lead to knee problems.

Foot Symptoms Indicate Health Problems

Your shoes could be the cause of your foot pain, but feet are often a good indication of your general health.

Examples of how your health affects your feet:

  • Swollen ankles can indicate congestive heart failure
  • Feet that are insensitive to pain and temperature can be a sign of diabetes
  • Cold feet may be symptomatic of circulatory disease
  • Clubbed toenails may indicate chronic respiratory disease

If your feet have been bothering you, see a healthcare provider, because your problem might not just be your shoes.

Best Shoes for Women's Comfort

According to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, women should wear shoes with a height of no more than two and a quarter inches, and shoes at these heights should be worn no more than two or three hours each day.

Wearing heels frequently for long periods of time can shorten the Achilles tendon over time and causes a loss in the range of motion in your feet. This is called equinus, and it can lead to foot pain, as well as multiple foot ailments.

Buying Shoes That Fit

Selecting properly fitting shoes is the first step to eliminating foot pain.

If you haven't had your foot measured in five years or more, you should measure the next time before you buy shoes; feet can change size and shape over the years. And don't measure just one foot—measure both feet. Your feet may be different sizes, and you should buy your shoes to fit the larger foot.

Tips for trying on and buying shoes:

  • Don't pick your shoes simply because the tag says they are your size—try them on and buy them based on how they fit on your foot.
  • If a pair of shoes feel tight when you try them on before buying, make sure you try on a wider shoe, not just a longer shoe.
  • Try on shoes that you are considering purchasing at the end of the day when your foot is the most swollen. Everyone's foot is most swollen at end of the day regardless of health. so if it fits at end of the day, it will likely be good the rest of the day.
  • If your shoes fit properly, there will be 3/8" to 1/2" of space between the end of your longest toe and the tip of your shoe when you are standing up.
  • Don't expect a tight pair of shoes to stretch to fit your foot; if you do you are asking for foot pain later on.
  • Shoes should have rounded toes that allow your toes room to 'wiggle.' Pointed shoes often give women toes that overlap and create extreme pain later in life.

Stretching Your Feet

Exercises that help prevent and relieve foot pain include home exercise programs that stretch the Achilles tendon or the plantar fascia. Performed regularly, these simple exercises can help reduce the pain in your feet.

Sometimes the entire lower extremity is tight, from the lower back muscle, glutes, hamstrings, to the Achilles plantar fascia. So you can also do a good amount of stretching to help with this.

The Future of High Heels

The good news for women, according to a survey by the AOFAS, is that a majority of women are no longer wearing shoes over one inch to work on a daily basis, and fewer than 3% of women are wearing shoes with a height of more than 2 and one-quarter inches. Twenty percent of women report wearing athletic shoes to work. Fashion magazines typically feature women in stiletto heels, but the truth is the average woman won't be spending much time these days in such uncomfortable and foot deforming shoes.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Shakoor N, Sengupta M, Foucher KC, Wimmer MA, Fogg LF, Block JA. Effects of common footwear on joint loading in osteoarthritis of the kneeArthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2010;62(7):917–923. doi:10.1002/acr.20165

  3. Yeboah J, Bertoni A, Qureshi W, et al. Pedal Edema as an Indicator of Early Heart Failure in the Community: Prevalence and Associations With Cardiac Structure/Function and Natriuretic Peptides (MESA [Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis])Circ Heart Fail. 2016;9(12):e003415. doi:10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.116.003415

  4. Chantelau EA. Nociception at the diabetic foot, an uncharted territoryWorld J Diabetes. 2015;6(3):391–402. doi:10.4239/wjd.v6.i3.391

  5. Sarkar M, Mahesh DM, Madabhavi I. Digital clubbingLung India. 2012;29(4):354–362. doi:10.4103/0970-2113.102824

  6. Medical Meanderings. American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society Study. Google Books.

  7. Zöllner AM, Pok JM, Mcwalter EJ, Gold GE, Kuhl E. On high heels and short muscles: a multiscale model for sarcomere loss in the gastrocnemius muscle. J Theor Biol. 2015;365:301-10. doi:10.1016/j.jtbi.2014.10.036

Additional Reading
  • How to Wear High Heels to Avoid Injury. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society.

By Tracee Cornforth
Tracee Cornforth is a freelance writer who covers menstruation, menstrual disorders, and other women's health issues.