Trust me on this one: there are few greater pleasures in life than simply finding and wearing a comfortable pair of shoes.
That’s especially true if heel pain has been a constant struggle in your life—as well as at this time of year, late spring and early summer, when the weather here in Boise tends to be especially glorious!
When your shoes are giving your feet exactly what they need to feel stable, supportive, and cushioned, you may find that old aches and pains go away and you can push yourself much longer and much harder without any ill effects.
Of course, the wrong pair of shoes can be a total nightmare. Spend a few hours or walk a few miles in them, and everything hurts.
The trick is finding that right pair. That’s something we may be able to help you with.
Anatomy of a Good Shoe for Heel Pain Sufferers
It’s easy to get caught up in the marketing hype for top brands. But while the claims that many shoes make might be partially based in fact, quite often the claims may be exaggerated or misleading.
In terms of basic anatomy, some attributes that heel pain sufferers should look for in an everyday shoe include:
- A firm sole. A thicker, more rigid sole will do a better job absorbing impact forces and helping you shift and transfer your weight comfortably. You don’t want the bottom of the shoe to be too flexible, as this can place extra tightness and strain on your plantar fascia. Grab both ends of the shoe and try to bend it and manipulate it. There should be a little bit of give, but you shouldn’t be able to fold, collapse, or twist it.
- Rocker bottoms? Rocker bottom soles modify the foot strike and alter muscle mechanics during the gait cycle. They can be a good choice for people with severe heel pain, along with various other foot problems, as long as they are being used at slow speeds and not for exercise. I covered this in more detail when I reviewed a pair of Skechers a few years back.
- A good heel counter. If you don’t know what a heel counter is, it’s the little plastic insert that goes inside the upper around the back of the shoe. You probably don’t think much about it, but actually, a good heel counter not only supports and protects the ankle, but can even help reduce excessive overpronation—a common factor in some cases of heel pain.
- Arch support. A well supported arch is your heel’s best friend. When your arches get overstretched and overstressed, they are going to start pulling uncomfortably on the heels. The most common heel pain condition in adults, plantar fasciitis, operates this way.
- Removable insoles. If you tend to suffer from heel pain, there is a good chance you may need some kind of arch support or orthotic device in your shoes (if you don’t already.) So buying shoes that can accommodate removable insoles, and ideally a little extra depth, is a smart move.
Finding Shoes that Fit Your Feet (and Your Activities)
Of course, it doesn’t matter if your shoes have all these essential attributes if they aren’t the right size or shape for your feet, or are just plain wrong for your activity. You might have found the most comfortable and supportive pair of hiking boots ever made, but that doesn’t mean you should run an ultramarathon in them!
Here are some helpful tips that can help you find that perfect fit:
- Measure first. Feet continue to change size and shape gradually throughout your entire life. Knowing the length and width sizing information of your foot is a crucial first step.
- Always test the fit in person. Just because a shoe is the “right size” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for your feet. Your shoes should feel comfortable right away—do not rely on a “break in” period to make an uncomfortable shoe comfortable. The shoe simply doesn’t fit.
- Try on multiple pairs. It’s always good to have at least 3-4 pairs to directly compare, if possible. Check different styles and sizes to see what works best.
- Shop near the end of the day. Feet tend to be a little swollen at the end of the long day. Testing the fit at this time helps ensure that your shoes will accommodate this.
- Bring the right socks. It won’t do much good trying on athletic shoes if you only brought your thick, fuzzy wool socks to the shoe store! Socks affect the fit, so make sure you have a pair that’s appropriate for the shoe you’re buying.
- Be activity-specific. As we said, even the world’s best hiking boots would be awful for distance running. So make sure you have activity-specific shoes to handle your favorite activities. That includes, for example, getting running shoes or basketball shoes if you regularly enjoy those activities, instead of assuming a generic pair of gym toes will cover it all. Sport-specific shoes really do make a difference in both performance and preventing injuries.
When Shoes Aren’t Enough
While a great pair of shoes can go a long way toward alleviating some of your symptoms and reducing the load on your heels, many cases of chronic heel pain require some additional treatment as well.
We employ a comprehensive approach to diagnosing and treating heel pain that is customized to meet the needs of each individual. If new shoes and conservative home care (stretching, RICE therapy, etc.) aren’t working, we offer a variety of advanced procedures including injection therapy, custom orthotics, and even regenerative medicine (including stem cell and amniotic tissue therapy).
Around 19 out of 20 patients can eliminate their heel pain non-surgically within 2-3 months of their initial appointment. So if you’re sick of dealing with heel pain and want to make sure you can actually enjoy some of the nice Boise weather this year before winter shuts us back inside again, give us a call at (208) 855-5955. We can help!