Almost everyone experiences foot pain at some point. Walking more than usual, a long day at work, or just wearing a new pair of shoes can cause temporary discomfort. But if you find yourself asking, Why do my feet hurt? at the end of each day, the answer can likely be found in your closet.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Ankle and Foot Research revealed most people regularly wear shoes that do not fit properly—and that ill-fitting footwear is strongly correlated to a range of foot problems, including pain and toe deformities. In fact, when you see a podiatrist about foot pain, you will likely be asked to bring the shoes you wear most often so the doctor can evaluate them.

 Fashionable woman adjusts her stiletto heels on a set of concrete steps.

That is just one part of the care you’ll receive when you turn to EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region for help with foot pain. Dr. John Lord and his team are committed to helping you keep your feet healthy and pain-free, ensuring you can enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle. And that starts with understanding the relationship between your shoes and foot health.

Why Do Shoes Cause Foot Pain?

The shoes you wear can cause pain for several reasons. As mentioned, studies show that wearing ill-fitting shoes can be a common cause of foot problems.

Wearing too-small shoes pushes your toes together, making it more difficult for them to move easily. This can change your gait (the way you walk), affecting everything from the tendons and bones in your feet to your knees, hips, and back. Shoes that are too restrictive also cause friction, leading to painful blisters, calluses, and corns.

Many people do not realize that foot sizes change even into adulthood. People often need larger sizes as they get older. Over time, the arches naturally flatten, causing your feet to stretch and lengthen, possibly increasing them by a full size by the time you reach age 40. This change makes it even more important to try on different shoes to find the best fitting pair.

However, it is not just wearing the wrong size shoes that can cause pain in your heels or sharp pain in the arch of the foot. Other aspects of your shoes that can lead to foot problems include:

Too high. It’s no surprise that high heels can cause foot pain—and the higher the heel, the more likely you’ll be complaining about sore feet. Walking in heels puts your feet into an unnatural position that puts more pressure on the balls of your feet. For example, a a 3-inch heel increases the bodyweight on the ball of your foot by 75%. This can cause problems with the ligaments, tendons, and bones in your feet and can even cause stress fractures.

Too flat. You might be surprised that wearing flats can leave you asking, “Why do my feet hurt?” However, flat shoes that lack arch support cause you to flex your muscles to support the arches. This can cause aches and pains later. Shoes like flip flops and ballet flats can also cause your toes to curl for stability, which contributes to pain.

Too narrow. Shoes with pointed toes may be fashionable, but they can be a disaster for your feet. Cramming your toes into a narrow space can contribute to painful blisters and nerve damage, as well as painful conditions like bunions and hammertoes.

Wearing the wrong shoes for the given activity or conditions can also cause foot problems and pain. Shoes for specific activities or sports are designed to support your feet where it is needed most. To prevent injury or pain, choose footwear specifically intended for your activity, e.g., running shoes for running, golf shoes for golfing.

But why do my feet hurt more when wearing flats?

Many people find that switching from high heels to flats actually increases their foot pain. This is because regularly wearing heels can cause the Achilles tendon to shorten and get tighter. You may not notice this when walking in heels, but as soon as you switch to flats, you may develop sharp pain in your calf and heel.

This occurs because of how your foot flexes when you walk. When you step forward, the plantar tendon flexes downward as your foot hits the ground. When you push off, it flexes upward. But when your Achilles tendon is short and tight, your foot tendon loses the ability to flex easily, causing pain.

Walking in flats can also aggravate existing conditions like plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, especially if the shoes lack adequate heel and arch support. This does not mean that you should always wear high heels, though. What it does mean is that when shopping for flat shoes, you should choose those that offer plenty of heel and arch support and allow your feet to move as they should.

Other Foot Care Basics

Even when you wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes, you may still experience foot pain after walking or standing more than normal. You can help ease the discomfort with the following tips.

  • Get pedicures. Getting a pedicure can be more than just a luxury. Pedicures help eliminate dry skin that can lead to painful cracks, and trimming toenails can help prevent ingrown nails and infections. Not to mention, a relaxing foot massage can help alleviate pain and tension.
  • Try foot soaks. Soaking your feet in a warm Epsom salt bath can help relax muscles and reduce swelling. Soak for 20 minutes and follow with a rich moisturizer.
  • Use the RICE technique. If you have rolled your ankle or injured your foot, use the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to speed healing.
  • Stretch. Stretching the Achilles tendon can help reduce foot strain and heel pain. Ask your podiatrist to suggest stretches to try.
  • Wear orthotic inserts. Worn inside your shoes, orthotic inserts can help correct foot problems that cause pain, provide additional arch support, or add cushioning.

Over-the-counter insoles are effective for minor issues and can make shoes more comfortable, but for more severe foot concerns, prescription, custom-made inserts may be necessary.

When to See a Podiatrist

If you have invested in well-fitting, high-quality shoes and tried relief measures, but are still asking yourself “Why do my feet hurt?” It is time to make an appointment to see a podiatrist.

You can self-schedule an appointment to see Dr. John Lord at EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region or call 984.666.2201 with questions anytime.

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