Shoes that Cause Foot Pain
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Flats sound like the healthier alternative to heels, but the truth is that even a basic ballet flat or canvas casual can be just as problematic, says Megan Leahy, DPM, a podiatrist with the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute in Chicago.
Arch enemy. Many flats lack internal support (like the kind you find in a sneaker). Without it, the ligaments and tendons along the bottom of your foot can overstretch and the arch can collapse, says Marlene Reid, DPM, a podiatric surgeon in Naperville, IL. This in turn can lead to the painful foot condition plantar fasciitis—a notoriously hard-to-treat burning or aching along the bottom of the foot. Poor internal support is especially problematic if you're naturally flat-footed.
Strained soles. Many casual flats have even less interior cushioning than heels or sandals. This lack of padding can trigger pain in the heel or ball of your foot when you're walking, especially if you have high arches, says Dr. Leahy.
Give your feet a workout. To wear shoes with no built-in support, you need to strengthen the tiny foot muscles that support your arches, says Bowman. Try doing toe lifts: Raise your big toe without moving the rest of the gang. It may seem impossible at first, but it's like riding a bike, says Bowman: You just have to master the coordination. Until you get the knack, wiggle your toes and rub your feet vigorously, which will stimulate your nerve endings and help wake up your feet. Do 20 toe lifts per foot.
Stretch it out. Just as the abductor/adductor machine at the gym strengthens your outer and inner thighs, you can work your toe abductors and adductors to make the muscles of your foot stronger and more supportive. Start by interlacing your fingers with your toes to help press them apart, then spread and relax them without assistance from your hands. Hold the stretch long enough to sing the alphabet. Do this once a day (or up to 3 times if you have bunions).
Bump it up. Help strengthen the small muscles in your feet and lower legs by striding barefoot across an uneven surface such as cobblestones. This also helps stimulate the nerves in your feet. Buy a pre-made cobblestone mat with smooth stones already glued to it ($60, amazon.com), or find (or make) a bumpy space to walk back and forth on in your backyard.
Add OTC insoles. If you have flat feet (your wet footprint shows the entire foot), foam or rubber insoles can help prevent your arches from collapsing. If you have high arches (you see only the heel and ball of your foot in your footprint), look for an insole with more rigid arch support.
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Look for flats with an insole that curves along the same lines as your foot and arch. Then try to fold the shoe in half—it should bend only at the ball (the same place your foot naturally bends as you walk). Also avoid pairs that fold right in the middle or roll up easily.