Choosing suitable footwear

Choosing suitable footwear

Choosing the right shoes is important. Shoes provide your feet with support and stability and protect your feet from the environment. Choosing the wrong type or size of shoe can be damaging to your feet, or can make existing foot problems worse.1,2

Listed here are some general points to help you choose the right shoes. If you have a condition that requires you to wear special footwear, you should always follow the advice of your doctor, podiatrist or other health care professional.

Finding the correct fit

It is important for your comfort and health of your feet that your shoes fit properly. Some general points to keep in mind are:

Overall length - Make sure there is 1cm (1/2 inch) of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe when you are standing up. You should be able to wiggle your toes.1,2

Width - Make sure there is enough width for your whole foot, and that there is no pressure on any of your joints.1,2

Back of heel - Your shoes shouldn't slip at the back when you walk. Make sure the back of the shoe is high enough to prevent it from slipping, but not so high that it rubs the back of your leg.1,2

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What to look for in a shoe

There are a few general points to consider when buying shoes. The diagram below shows the different parts of a shoe.

Heel - Try to choose shoes with a heel that has a broad base, and is less than 4cm (1.5 inches) high. This is particularly important if you are at risk of falls.1,2

Heel counter - This should be firm, as it reinforces the heel and helps stabilise your foot when you come in contact with the ground.2,3

Heel collar - This should pass under the ankle, padding may help reduce the pressure on your ankle and reduce the chance of blisters developing.1,3

Sole - The sole should provide enough cushioning for comfort, and enough grip to stop you from slipping. A midsole (the layer between the outsole and insole) will provide more shock absorption and makes the shoe firmer.2,3

Fastening - This should be velcro, laces or a buckle to allow adjustment and help hold your foot in the shoe.2,3

Upper - Leather is usually a good choice for comfort and durability. Natural, breathable fabrics are also comfortable.2,3

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Other types of footwear

Slippers are often worn around the house because they are warm and comfortable. Slippers stretch with use and should be replaced when they no longer fit well. Poorly fitting slippers can cause falls. A well fitted shoe reserved for indoor use is a good alternative. If you are buying slippers, look for a cushioned sole and an adjustable fastening so they stay firmly on your feet.2

Boots are available in a wide variety of styles and leg lengths. When buying boots it is a good idea to check how easy they are to put on and take off. You should also make sure they are not too tight, as this can restrict circulation.5

Sandals are often worn in the summer months. It is a good idea to choose styles that have adjustable straps or buckles, particularly if your feet are prone to swelling. If you have diabetes, you should be careful if using sandals as your feet are not as protected against damage. Go to top ^

Footwear for common foot problems

Some conditions, such as arthritis and diabetes, can cause problems with your feet. Listed here are some general points about footwear for these conditions. However, you should always follow the advice of your doctor or podiatrist for your specific condition.

Caring for your feet is important if you have diabetes. You should make sure that your footwear fits properly - it should not rub anywhere and you should have plenty of room for your toes. Diabetes UK and the The College of Podiatry have information on how to care for your feet if you have diabetes.6

If arthritis affects the joints in your feet you may have difficulty finding comfortable shoes. Look for footwear with shock absorbing insoles, thick but flexible, lightweight soles to protect your feet, and plenty of depth to accommodate your toes. Arthritis Research UK has further advice on footwear for arthritis.7

Swollen feet
If you have swelling in your feet and lower limbs, you may find it difficult to find shoes that fit well, or find them difficult to put on and take off. You may require special footwear with extra depth. Look for footwear that has a heel with a broad base, an adjustable fastening such as laces or velcro, a supportive upper and slip resistant sole. It is a good idea to be fitted by someone who has had appropriate training, through an organisation such as The Society of Shoefitters.

Sensitive feet
Some people may experience allergic reactions to leather footwear, which are usually caused by the chemicals used in the tanning process, or by dyes. If you know what causes your allergy, you may need to look for shoes made from leather that has been tanned in a different way. Alternatively, you may need to look for shoes that have a fabric upper. Depending on the severity of your allergy, shoes with a fabric lining or cotton socks or stockings may be appropriate. The British Footwear Association can provide you with further information and advice about footwear allergies.

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Further information

For further information on choosing suitable footwear, please see the links below.

  • The College of Podiatry publishes information for the general public on choosing footwear, as well as general information on foot care.
  • NHS Choices has a section on foot health, with general information on foot care as well as advice related to conditions such as arthritis and diabetes. It also has information about what services are available.
  • Diabetes UK has information and advice on how to take care of your feet if you have diabetes. They also have a care line and run local support groups.
  • Arthritis Care has general information and advice related to arthritis.
  • The British Footwear Association has information and contacts for specialist footwear suppliers.
  • The Society of Shoefitters offers training on how to fit shoes correctly, to shoe shop assistants or owners. They also have information and advice on their website about foot care and choosing the right footwear.
Advice last checked: 10 October 2014 Next check due: 10 October 2017

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
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