Friday, April 12, 2024
FOOT HEALTH Footwear/Biomechanics

Bad Shoes and Foot Pain- 11 Foot Problems Caused by Wearing Wrong Shoes

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If you’ve ever had foot pain, you may be wondering if your shoes are to blame. With so many different options for shoes out there, many people may pick shoes that are not well suited for their feet.

Foot morphology is highly variable between individuals (1). Therefore, one type of shoe doesn’t fit all. 

Bad shoes can cause a variety of foot problems including ingrown toenails, toenail injuries, corns, plantar fasciitis, neuromas, bunions, hammertoes, blisters, Athlete’s foot, and metatarsalgia.  

In this article, we’ll discuss 11 foot problems that occur from wearing poor shoes, along with solutions on what to do about it. 

ingrown toenail

1) Ingrown Toenail

An ingrown toenail is when the edge of a toenail grows into the surrounding skin, causing pain and sometimes infection.  It most commonly affects the big toe, but can be seen in any toe. 

Common symptoms of an ingrown toenail include pain and swelling along the nail border. Redness may also be seen in the case of an infection. 

Ingrown toenails can occur if your shoes are too narrow. Tight shoes and even tight socks can cause pressure along the nail borders causing swelling and discomfort against the nail border. 

Solution

Avoid wearing shoes that are too tight that may impinge on the toenail. Shoes that are too tight can cause ingrown toenails due to pressure on the toe. 

Make sure your shoes fit well and your toes don’t feel jammed. The toes should be able to move freely without rubbing against the top of your shoe. 

Avoid shoes like high heels that will cause added pressure in the front of the foot. Wear shoes with a low heel and wide toe box. 

Make sure you cut your nails straight across. Avoid cutting them too short or with rounded edges.

black toenail

2) Subungual Hematoma

If you wear a shoe that is too small and narrow for your feet, you may notice that your toenails turn black. This is commonly seen in runners who wear tight shoes. 

If the edge of the shoe constantly hits your toenails, blood can develop underneath the nail. This is called a “subungual hematoma”. 

Too much blood underneath the toenail can cause the toenail to fall off. 

Solution 

The best thing you can do to prevent a subungual hematoma is to make sure your shoes are not too small and constrictive.

Your shoe should be half an inch longer than your longest toe. Also, make sure to wear shoes with a deep-toe box. 

corn toe

3) Corns

If you are wearing narrow shoes, it can cause excessive rubbing to occur on the skin of your toes. This can cause painful corns to form. 

Corns are hardened and thickened tissue that occur due to excessive friction. If you have bent toes (hammertoes), this can place you at a higher risk for developing corns due to irritation. 

Although corns on the tops of the toes can be painful, interdigital corns can be intensely painful. 

Interdigital corns are when corns occur between the toes. The skin between the toes is very sensitive. 

When you wear tight shoes that force the toes to rub against each other, this can create painful interdigital corns. 

Solution

When buying shoes, make sure you buy shoes that have a deep toe box. Do not buy shallow-toe box shoes that press on the tops of your shoes. 

If you must wear a certain type of shoe for work, protect the toes using corn pads. Use adhesive digital corn pads. They are easy to use and can be applied on the tops of your toes or between your toes to prevent rubbing of the toes when in shoes. 

If you have painful corns between your toes, use toe spacers with loops. You can buy these on Amazon. They keep your toes separated. The sleeves help ensure that the spacer doesn’t slide when you are walking. 

plantar fasciitis

4) Heel Pain and Arch Pain From Plantar Fasciitis

Wearing overly flat shoes, such as ballet flats or flip-flops can cause strain of the ligament that supports your arch called the “plantar fascia”. Plantar fasciitis can happen due to inflammation of the ligament. 

When you wear flat shoes, there is no arch support to help support the plantar fascia. This can cause the plantar fascia to become strained, resulting in pain. 

Flat Feet and High-Arched Feet

Pain from plantar fasciitis will occur in the heel or arch of the foot. It occurs in people who have flat feet or very high-arched feet. 

Solution

Make sure to wear shoes that have arch support directly in them. This will help provide support to the plantar fascia. 

You can even wear sandals such as Oofos and Birkenstocks that come with arch support in them. 

If you are looking for orthotic insoles that will provide your arch with some support, wear the Powerstep ProTech orthotic.

This orthotic has a nice cushion arch support with a deep heel cup that can help with plantar fasciitis. The insert can be directly placed into your athletic shoes.  

For people who over-pronate when they walk or run, motion-control shoes can be effective to reduce pronation and prevent injury (2). You can find these types of shoes at your local running shoe store.

neuroma toe pain

5) Morton’s Neuroma

When you stand up, the foot is supposed to splay naturally. If you are wearing narrow shoes, your foot cannot splay the way it is designed to. 

A. Buldt in his study in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research found that a large portion of the population (between 63 and 72%) are wearing inappropriately sized footwear based on length and width measurements (1)

Since many people wear the wrong shoe size, nerve impingement can occur.

When your bones are pressed together in narrow shoes, not only is it uncomfortable, but it can pinch the nerves that run between the bones. This can cause “Morton’s Neuroma”.

A Morton’s neuroma is a non-cancerous thickening of the nerve that occurs between the 3rd and 4th digits. 

When you wear shoes that are too narrow, the third and fourth metatarsals (knuckle bones) impinge on the nerve and cause chronic irritation. 

Common symptoms include burning and tingling pain in the toes. 

Solution

Make sure your shoes are wide enough for your foot structure. You can properly measure your feet using a Brannock device. You can buy one here on Amazon. 

Here’s a great video by SanLuis Podiatry explaining how to properly use a Brannock device. 

If you still experience neuroma pain after getting wider shoes, you can obtain a neuroma pad and place it onto your shoe liner to help offload the neuroma. You can obtain a ¼” neuroma pad on Amazon.

You can see this video by myfootshop.com on how to properly apply a neuroma pad. 

If you would rather buy an insole with a neuroma pad incorporated into it, buy the Powerstep Pinnacle Plus insoles. These inserts are great because the neuroma pad is already inside the insole.

The insoles will last 6 months to 1 year. Make sure to remove your shoe liner before placing these insoles in your shoes. 

bunions

6) Bunions Can Occur From Wearing Tight Shoes

Although bunions are often inherited, narrow pointed shoes can force the great toe into a lateral position and cause your bunion to worsen. 

Also, narrow shoes can rub against your bunion and cause redness and bursitis to form due to chronic irritation.

Solution

Although you can’t reverse a bunion, you can certainly prevent it from getting worse faster. 

Make sure your shoes are wide enough and are not impinging on your bunion. Inserts can help to stabilize the foot because bunions do get worse with time. 

Wear the Powerstep ProTech inserts. They can be placed directly into your shoes and provide a good amount of arch support as well as heel stability. These inserts will typically last 6 months to 1 year.

7) Hammertoes 

When shoes are too tight, narrow or have a high heel, they can force the toes into an unnatural position, causing the muscles and tendons to become imbalanced. This results in a bent toe, called a hammertoe. 

Wearing bad shoes can cause the hammertoes to rub against the top of the shoe and cause pain. 

Solution

Wear shoes that fit properly and have a wide and deep toe box. Shoes with a lower heel can also be helpful as they place less pressure on the toes. 

foot blister

8) Blisters

Wearing shoes that are either too big or too small for your feet can cause blisters.  When shoes are too big, your feet will slide in the shoes and cause repetitive friction and pressure. This friction can irritate the skin and create a fluid-filled blister. 

Shoes that are too small will create pressure points that lead to blisters. When your toes are cramped and rubbing against the inside of the shoe, it can cause the skin to become irritated and form a blister. 

Blisters can be very painful and can make it difficult to walk or wear shoes comfortably.

The Diabetic Foot

People who have diabetes with neuropathy have loss of sensation in their feet. 

When they wear ill-fitting shoes, people with a diabetic foot with neuropathy are at higher risk for developing blisters and infections in their feet. 

Solution

Make sure to have your feet properly measured for length and width to make sure that the shoe is an appropriate fit. 

When tying your shoes, tie them normally. If you have to over-tighten them to provide your foot with stability in your shoes, your shoes may be too big. 

Make sure that the space between the longest toe and the edge of the shoes is not greater than half an inch.

If the shoe fits well but your heel is narrow, you can purchase a heel grip on Amazon that you can put on the back of your shoe to control heel movement. 

Again, make sure to get your feet measured for appropriate length and width. 

athletes foot

9) Athlete’s Foot

If you walk around all day in narrow constrictive shoes, you may be at higher risk of developing athlete’s foot. 

Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the skin that can be picked up from walking barefoot in public spaces.  

However, if your feet tend to sweat a lot and your toes are pushed together regularly in restrictive shoes, you may develop athlete’s foot from moisture accumulation between the toes.  

Solution

Foot care is important. Avoid walking barefoot, and dry your feet thoroughly after showering. 

Make sure you buy breathable shoes. 

A lot of running shoes nowadays are designed with a breathable forefoot mesh. You can obtain appropriate shoes at a running shoe store. 

If you have already developed athlete’s foot, you can try using over-the-counter Lamisil 1% cream

If this doesn’t clear the athlete’s foot, contact your doctor about a prescription-strength antifungal cream. 

You should also take proper measures to prevent spreading athlete’s foot. 

high heels red

10) Metatarsalgia

High heels can cause foot pain by increasing pressure on the balls of your feet. The higher the heel, the more pressure that is placed on the ball of your feet.

M. Coughlin found that heel forefoot pressure increases by 22% for a 3/4-inch heel, 57% for a 2-inch heel, and 76% for a 3 1/4-inch heel (3).

When there is excessive pressure on the ball of your feet, you may develop “metatarsalgia”. 

Metatarsalgia is pain in the ball of the foot. If you’re not careful and place excessive amounts of pressure on the balls of your feet, you can even develop a stress fracture due to repetitive pressure. 

Due to excessive pressure on the balls of your feet, you may notice an increase in callus formation.

G. Borchgrevin in her study in Foot and Ankle Surgery found that people who wore high heels had more calluses compared to control groups (4). This can cause discomfort when walking.  

Pointy toe shoes can crowd the toes and cause pain in the forefoot. You may also notice back pain when wearing high heels. High heels will cause your pelvis to tilt forward, which increases the curvature in your back. 

High heels also cause contracture of your calf muscles. This can cause leg pain. 

Solution

If you must wear heels, aim to wear a heel no more than 1-2 inches. Platform heels can also be a better option than stiletto heels due to their ability to disperse pressure throughout the feet. 

You can also apply a ⅛” metatarsal pad to your dress shoes. This can help alleviate pressure along with your metatarsal heads when walking. 

Your Feet Hurt Despite Treatment…What’s Next?

If your feet hurt despite trying various treatments, it may be time to see a Podiatrist. 

A Podiatrist is a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of foot and ankle conditions. 

Your Podiatrist will help you identify the underlying cause of your foot pain and develop a customized treatment plan to address your specific needs. 

Additionally, they will recommend orthotics or other supportive devices to help alleviate your pain and prevent future foot problems.  

Related article:

Steel Toe Boots and Foot Problems: How To Prevent Pain In the Feet

Do Orthotics Help Knee Pain: What to Know About Insoles for Knee Pain Relief

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References

  1. Buldt, A. K., & Menz, H. B. (2018). Incorrectly fitted footwear, foot pain, and foot disorders: a systematic search and narrative review of the literature. Journal of foot and ankle research, 11(1), 1-11.https://jfootankleres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13047-018-0284-z
  2. Willems, T. M., Ley, C., Goetghebeur, E., Theisen, D., & Malisoux, L. (2021). Motion-Control Shoes Reduce the Risk of Pronation-Related Pathologies in Recreational Runners: A Secondary Analysis of a Randomized Controlled Trial. journal of orthopedic & sports physical therapy, 51(3), 135-143.https://www.jospt.org/doi/full/10.2519/jospt.2021.9710
  3. Coughlin, M. J. (1998). Foot problems in women: why those shoes aren’t made for walking. Consultant, 38(10), 2511-2517.https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA21275925&sid=googleScholar&v=2.1&it=r&linkaccess=abs&issn=00107069&p=AONE&sw=w&userGroupName=anon%7E33b82b6
  4. Borchgrevink, G. E., Viset, A. T., Witsø, E., Schei, B., & Foss, O. A. (2016). Does the use of high-heeled shoes lead to fore-foot pathology? A controlled cohort study comprising 197 women. Foot and Ankle Surgery, 22(4), 239-243.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1268773115001654.

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Vaishnavi Bawa
Dr. Vaishnavi Bawa is a Podiatrist who specializes in treating foot and ankle pathology. LifesLittleSteps mission is to educate the public about foot health in an easy-to-understand manner using evidence-based medicine.
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