Daily Living

Choosing the right footwear

The legs of three people walking on the sidewalk

Human feet have 52 bones, 66 joints and more than 200 muscles, tendons and ligaments, all so the feet can support our skeleton and provide balance and mobility. Our footwear can help or hinder us in our daily activities, which is why appropriate selection is always important. It’s not just feet that suffer from poor shoes. Back, hip, knee and ankle pain are greatly affected by the kind of shoes we wear.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for footwear that will keep you comfortable and stylish:

Find the right fit

If the back of a shoe is too wide, your foot will slip, causing instability and soreness. Check the fit by sliding your finger around the back or side of the heel to make sure that your heel isn’t slipping out when you step.

Don’t wear shoes that change the shape of your foot. Your toes should have plenty of room to wiggle. Shoes that have a pointed, narrow or shallow shape can create pressure, as well as cause pain and eventual damage to your foot. 

Support is important

Look for shoes that lace up, whenever possible. Lace-up shoes allow for the most customizable fit for your foot which can also help prevent falls. If you have tenderness in the bones on the top of your foot, choose a shoe with a padded tongue, or if you have pain in the bones at the bottom, look for cushioning at the ball of the toes.

Also, if you spend a lot of time on hard surfaces including cement floors and pavement, choose footwear with a shock-absorbing, cushioning, stable sole — let the shoe do the work, not your feet! For more information on footwear selection, visit the Pedorthic Association of Canada's website

The level of arch support you need will depend on your particular circumstances. Consider talking to a footwear specialist, physiotherapist, pedorthist, chiropodist or podiatrist to make sure your feet are getting the support they need. Your whole body will thank you.

Heel height risk

High heels, while fashionable, put your knees and low back at risk. A University of Iowa study measured how different shoes impacted force on the knee joint and found that the height of heels changed the study participants’ stride. As the heel height increased, they also saw an increase in compression on the medial, or inside, of the knee — possibly putting people who wear heels at risk for knee osteoarthritis. The higher the heel, the worse the pressure.

Other research has noted that high heels can also increase curvature of the lumbar spine. This can lead to compression of the lower vertebrae and restriction of the lower back muscles. Saving high heels for special occasions and choosing lower and wider heels for everyday wear is a smarter choice.

Learn more about shoes in our Arthritis Advice video on “Arthritis and Walking”, and take more steps to improve your day-to-day life with our Daily Living learning module.