If the Shoe Fits?

If you have a condition like bunions or hammer toes, finding a comfortable shoe can be challenging. Here are a few things to consider.

As many as 1 in 4 adults have bunions1 and 1 in 3 adults have hammer toes.2 If you have a bunion or hammer toe, you know exactly how uncomfortable certain shoes can be. Did you know that the fit of your shoes can make your bunion and hammer toe pain worse? Here are 5 things to consider when looking for footwear that’s both comfortable and well-suited to your personal style.

1. Heel height3-5

Wearing high heels can shift your center of gravity forward, which can increase pressure on a bunion or hammer toe. A lower profile or wedge heel helps balance the force distribution so the balls of your feet (and your toe joints) won't end up doing more than their fair share of weight-bearing.

2. Toe box width3-5

Make sure the width of your shoes, especially the front toe box, aren't too narrow relative to the widest part of your feet. A toe box that is too tight, pointy, or short increases pressure on your already sensitive hammer toes or bunions. Conversely, you don’t want a toe box that’s too wide because it could cause blisters or corns.

If you really need additional space, ask your podiatrist about extra depth shoes. Not only can these give your toes the breathing room they need, but they also make it easier to fit custom orthotics, braces, or other devices into your footwear.

3. Flexible fabric4,5

Consider shoes made with softer fabrics that are a bit more elastic and forgiving. This allows your shoes to fit more comfortably around a toe deformity and can reduce skin irritation caused by friction and rubbing.

4. Be sandal savvy4,5

Sandals often feel great for people with hammer toes and bunions because it gives their feet plenty of room. Sandals with thicker straps, including straps that go around the heel, are reported to help keep your feet properly supported. Be aware that flip flops can exacerbate hammer toe or bunion pain since your feet muscles have to work unusually hard to keep the flimsy footwear on.

5. Overall support5

Depending on your feet (e.g., whether you have flat feet vs. high arches), you may find that wearing shoes with adequate arch support and padding can help offload pressure on your bunions and toes.

There's usually not just one easy fix for finding the best fitting shoes, but the above suggestions might be a start to help point you in the right direction. Ultimately, try to pay attention to how your shoes feel, and be sure to replace your footwear once it starts to wear down. Chat with a foot doctor for customized guidance.

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  1.  Roddy, E. (2011, Apr). Epidemiology and impact of hallux valgus: more than just bunions. Journal of Ankle and Foot Research. 4(Suppl 1): A8.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3102914/.
  2. Ugur, S., et al. (2018, May). Prevalence estimation and familial tendency of common forefoot deformities in Turkey: A survey of 2662 adults. Acta Orthopaedica et Traumatologica Turcica. 52(3): 167-173. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1017995X16301262.
  3. McCaffery, J. and Ayuda, T. (2020, Apr 16). 17 Best Shoes for Bunions to Buy in 2020, According to Podiatrists. Prevention. https://www.prevention.com/beauty/style/g19599046/best-shoes-for-bunions/.
  4. The Best and Worst Shoes for Your Feet (n.d.). Piedmont Healthcare. https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/the-best-and-worst-shoes-for-your-feet.
  5. Choosing The Right Shoes (n.d.). Victoria State Government Better Health Channel.  https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Choosing-the-right-shoe.

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