Heel Pain and Shoes
If you live on the beach of a fantasy resort island, you might not wear shoes that often. For the rest of us, they’re practically the home our feet must live in throughout the day.
And if you suffer from heel pain, that home might not be so happy.
Whether you have heel pain in the morning, after running, or after standing at work through the day, the shoes you wear can have a significant impact on how severe this pain can be and how much better or worse it may become over time.
What are the best shoe choices you can make to help fight your heel pain? That may depend on some things, and it’s important to understand just where shoes fall in this whole situation.
Your Shoes Are Not Magic
What we mean by this is that your shoes are not always at the core of heel pain problems.
While some forms of heel pain might be caused by shoes, many more have other underlying factors at play. Choosing the right kinds of footwear, or changing to better footwear than what you currently have, may result in a marked improvement, but it may not fully get rid of your heel pain for good.
Achieving even better pain relief—or potentially eliminating your heel pain altogether—may likely involve additional changes and treatments, such as custom orthotics, stretching, or (in much rarer cases) surgery. Even if footwear is just a part of the overall picture, however, it is still very much worth making the right decisions about it.
What to Look for in a Heels-Friendly Shoe
Many causes of heel pain deal with excess stress in certain areas of the foot. This can cause injury and inflammation to certain areas such as the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia, which can lead to various forms of heel pain (that latter part, the plantar fascia, is likely the one responsible if your pain is worst when you get out of bed in the morning).
In general, a shoe that is helpful or at least neutral against heel pain will provide support for the foot—especially the arch—and cushioning in areas of stress. Here are a few elements to look out for:
- A Supportive Sole. This might sound a bit like the title of a self-help book, but the sole of a shoe should provide both protection for the heel as well as some control over motion (especially if your foot tends to roll inward too far when walking, aka overpronation). A good way to test the sole of a shoe? Grasp the heel with one hand, the place where the ball of your foot would go with the other, and give it a twist. A good sole will have a little give, but still resist this motion. If it’s limp, you won’t get the support you need.
- Arch Support. The arch of the foot naturally absorbs and redistributes the forces of walking, but problems such as plantar fasciitis can develop if it is overwhelmed. Having a supportive arch area in a shoe will help protect the plantar fascia and other surrounding tissues in the arch, helping to absorb some of that total shock.
- A Deep, Cushioned Heel Cup. You naturally need a good place for the heel itself to reside. It should provide healthy support around the sides and cushioning beneath. In some cases, inserts can be added here if needed, either independently or as part of a custom orthotic insert.
No matter what type of shoe you consider, however, it will not help you well if it does not fit correctly. Always try shoes on in the store and give them a bit of walking time to ensure they fit properly. This includes enough room in the toe box for your toes to avoid cramping together, enough width midway to accommodate your foot, and a heel that is snug enough to avoid sliding.
What Kinds of Shoes Should You Avoid?
As you might expect, shoes that fail to provide good support, cushioning, or motion control can wreak havoc on your overall heel comfort.
This might not be a surprise to many, but high heels are a terrible choice if you want comfortable feet. While the toes can receive plenty of pain, the arch can also be forced into an unnatural position that places strain on the heels as well.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, extremely flat shoes like ballet flats can be just as ruinous. They have no support for the arch, and very little in the way of cushioning. Most flip-flops and basic sandal types are not much better. If you are looking for open summer footwear, look for sandals with good arch cushioning and straps that comfortably secure the foot.
There’s More than Your Shoes
While a change in footwear can sometimes do the full trick for a few, most people with heel pain will require some additional steps to find maximum relief.
At Associates in Podiatry, our specialists know how to get to the root of a patient’s heel pain symptoms and recommend the best forms of treatment that mix effectiveness and compatibility to a patient’s lifestyle. Whether this includes custom orthotics to address structural issues, physical therapy to strengthen muscles and supporting tissues, our MLS Laser for healing therapy for your feet, or other forms of treatment, we will be sure to discuss all the best options with you.
We have two area offices ready to serve your foot and ankle needs. Call our Princeton office at (609) 924-8333 or our Roselle Park office at (908) 687-5757 to schedule an appointment. Or, if you prefer, fill out our online contact form and a member of our staff will respond to you.
Request an Appointment
Disinfect Your Shoes
Whatever shoes you wore while having toenail fungus may still contain traces of it. Certain types of fungus can be quite hardy and remain around for some time, increasing the risk of re-infection.
This does not necessarily mean you have to throw your shoes out. If they are old and starting to fall apart, we recommend doing so. You need new shoes, anyway.
If your shoes are still pretty new, however, you can disinfect them instead. If you wish, you could invest in an ultraviolet shoe sanitizer. These use UV rays to provide a very rate of sterilization (up to 99.9%) within your shoes. They also do a good job of reducing odor and drying out moisture. It usually takes about 15 minutes to get the job done.
If you don’t want to give your shoes a light show, there are always antifungal sprays and powders. Make sure you are not just using a deodorizing product. That will likely do nothing against the fungus. It must also disinfect. Make sure you get the toe boxes of your shoes liberally with whatever product you use.
Also, when it comes to shoes, always keep one thing in mind: never, ever, wear someone else’s shoes or have someone use yours. You don’t know what they’ve got on their feet, and you don’t want to spread anything to someone who might be more susceptible to an infection.
Wear Breezy Socks
Sweat is the enemy when it comes to fungus. It makes a home, such as your shoes, much more hospitable to them.
Socks that are breathable and keep moisture from collecting around your feet are optimal. Great materials for this purpose are: Merino wool, polyester, Olefin fiber, and Drymax. Try to keep away from cotton. It’s reliable, but not the best at keeping moisture away.
Keep Clippers to Yourself
If you have been using a certain pair of clippers on your toes, you will very much want to disinfect or replace those as well. How best to do this?
- Let the clippers soak in boiling water for a few minutes.
- After removing them (don’t burn yourself!), scrub with dish soap and an old toothbrush to clean off any remaining dead skin cells or residues.
- Rise, then wipe down the clippers with a paper towel soaked in rubbing alcohol.
- Completely dry the clippers with a paper towel to avoid rusting.
You can also use Barbicide if you happen to have it around.
Now that you have a clean pair of toenail clippers, make sure to use them only on your toenails. They should be the larger kind designed for toenails, too. Sharing clippers runs another risk of fungal infection, and using the same pair of clippers on your fingernails and toenails can run the risk of transferring an infection from your feet to your hands, or vice versa.
Protect Your Feet in Public
You can lock down your home against fungus rather easily, but the world is another matter. Fungus thrives in warm, damp, moist environments, and there are plenty of them out there with a lot of foot traffic.
If you are going to high risk areas such as gyms, locker rooms, and public pools, you need to keep your feet protected. A pair of sandals or—even better—shower shoes will provide a good amount of cover in the worst of it.
(And no, we don’t really expect you to wear shower shoes in the pool, but they can be useful around it.)
Of course, wash your feet well after your time in a shower room or pool, and make sure they are fully dry before you put socks and shoes back on.
What if it Does Happen Again?
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, a fungal infection can return. The good news is, you likely know what to look for in your nails by now, and catching it early will most likely mean a much easier and shorter treatment time than your first go.
Our treatments, including Lunula laser therapy, are ready for you when needed. We will be perfectly happy if we never have to use them for you again, however.
If you ever have any questions or suspicions regarding a potential fungal nail infection, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. Call our Princeton office at (609) 924-8333 or our Roselle Park office at (908) 687-5757. You also can consult our free downloadable guide on fungal nails for some more tips!