A number of lifestyle changes and self-care measures will help you relieve foot pain and prevent further damage to your feet. If you have trouble seeing and reaching your feet because of vision problems, paralysis, arthritis, or obesity, ask a friend, family member, or a professional to help you take care of your feet.
In general, the best shoes are well cushioned and have a leather upper, stiff heel counter, and flexible area at the ball of the foot. The heel area should be strong and supportive, but not too stiff, and the front of the shoe should be flexible. New shoes should feel comfortable right away, without a breaking in period. There should be plenty of room for all 5 toes.
Getting the Correct Fit
The best way to prevent nearly all foot problems is to choose well-fitted shoes with a firm sole and soft upper. You should purchase them in the afternoon or after a long walk, when your feet are at their largest size. There should be a ½ inch of space between your longest toe and the tip of the shoe, and the toes should be able to wiggle upward. You should stand when being measured, and both feet should be sized, with shoes bought for the larger foot. It is important to wear the same socks as you would regularly wear with the new shoes.
Ideally, your shoes should have removable insoles (more information below). If you are an older person, thin hard soles may be the best choice. Elderly people wearing shoes with thick, inflexible soles may be unable to sense the position of their feet relative to the ground, which increases the risk for falling.
High heels are a major cause of foot problems in women. If you insist on wearing high heels, look for shoes with a wide toe box (the part of the shoe that surrounds the toes), reinforced heels that are relatively wide, and cushioned insoles. You should also keep the amount of time you spend wearing high heels to a minimum.
The way shoes are laced can be important for preventing specific problems. Laces should always be loosened before putting shoes on. If you have narrow feet, you should buy shoes with eyelets more separated over the tongue than people with wider feet. This makes for a tighter fit for narrower feet and a looser fit for wider feet. If, after tying the shoe, less than an inch of tongue shows, then the shoes are probably too wide for you. Tightness should be adjusted both at the top of the laces and at the bottom. When high arches cause pain, eyelets should be skipped to relieve pressure.
Breaking In and Wearing Shoes
If your shoes require breaking in, place moleskin pads on areas of your skin where friction is likely to occur. Once a blister occurs, moleskin is not as effective. Change shoes during the day. As soon as the heels show noticeable wear, you should replace the shoes or heels.
Exercise and Sports
The shoes you wear for exercise should be specifically designed for your preferred sport. For instance, a running shoe should cushion your forefoot, while tennis shoes should emphasize ankle support. Buy your shoes at a store with knowledgeable sales people.
A number of occupations put the feet in danger. If you are in a high-risk job, you should be sure your footwear is protective. For example, nonelectric workers at risk for falling or rolling objects or punctures should wear shoes with steel toes and possibly other metal foot guards. Electric workers should wear footgear with no metal parts (or insulated steel toes) and rubber soles and heels. Chemical workers should wear shoes made of synthetics or rubber, not leather.
An insole is a flat cushioned insert that is placed inside the shoe. They are designed to reduce shock, provide support for your heels and arches, and absorb moisture and odor. People respond very differently to specific insoles. What works for one person may not work for you. The thickness of your socks must be considered when purchasing insoles. You do not want insoles to squeeze your toes up against your shoes.
Insoles can be purchased in athletic and drug stores. Shoe stores that specialize in foot problems often make and sell customized insoles that are more expensive. In general, over-the-counter insoles offer enough support for most people's foot problems. Most well-known brands of athletic shoes have built-in insoles.
Toenails should be trimmed short and straight across. Filing should also be straight across using a single movement, lifting the file before the next stroke. The file should not saw back and forth. A cuticle stick can be used to clean under the nail.
To prevent corns and calluses, and relieve discomfort:
In addition to wearing proper shoes and socks, you should also walk correctly to prevent foot injury and pain. Your head should be erect, your back straight, and your arms relaxed and swinging freely at your sides. You should step out on your heel, move forward with the weight on the outside of your foot, and complete the step by pushing off the big toe.
Adult foot health. American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society website. Available at: http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/overview/Pages/Adult-Foot-Health.aspx. Accessed December 31, 2012.
Foot care. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/foot-complications/foot-care.html. Accessed December 28, 2012.
Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your feet and skin healthy. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/prevent-diabetes-problems/Pages/keep-feet-healthy.aspx. Updated May 2008. Accessed December 31, 2012.
Tips for healthy feet. American Podiatric Medical Association website. Available at: http://www.apma.org/Learn/HealthyFeetTipsList.cfm?navItemNumber=535. Accessed December 31, 2012.
Last reviewed March 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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