Bone & joint health Featured Musculoskeletal Wellness

For the love of feet: Clean out your shoe closet

a tidy shoe closet

Soon – I hope – spring will truly hit Toronto, and it’ll be time to free my feet from the constraints of my clunky boots. Bring on the sandals…and unfortunately the accompanying foot pain.

A little bit of pain and fatigue in your feet at the end of the day is normal, says Kevin Fraser, pedorthist at Sunnybrook Centre for Independent Living. But recurring pain is the sign of a problem. The most common foot problems do come from repetitive strain injuries – often brought on by poor footwear choices.

Plantar fasciitis – a strain or tear in the foot’s fascia – is one of the most common foot issues, he says. The plantar fascia connects the heel to the ball of the foot to support the arch structure of the foot. Symptoms are pain (sharp, stabbing or dull) or a burning sensation; swelling; and/or inflammation. Pain in the morning right when you get out of bed could be an indicator of plantar fasciitis.

And while your genes – the shape of your foot, the size of your foot, your arch – play a role in if you develop foot problems like plantar fasciitis, your footwear and lifestyle play a big role too.

Kevin Fraser

Kevin Fraser, pedorthist

“A repetitive strain injury comes from what you do on your feet all day and what shoes you are doing that in,” Kevin says.

A good shoe provides support for your feet, cushions impact of hard walking surfaces and spreads the pressure of the weight of your body.

“Our feet are our mode of transportation. But they are also the foundation for the rest of your body – your knees, your hips and your back,” Kevin says. “This really is a good time of year to reevaluate the footwear you have.”

So if you are getting a head start on your spring cleaning, what better place to start than your shoe closet. It’s an idea that Kevin can happily get behind. (And I can too, since maybe it’ll mean I can go shoe shopping)!

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when tackling your shoe closet:

Does the shoe fit?

A shoe that fit you last year might not fit you this year. Try them on.

“Always try both shoes on and don’t just go by the shoe size you normally buy,” Kevin says. The same goes for when you are buying new shoes. Your feet might be different sizes and every shoe brand is different in sizing. (Here’s more from Kevin about shoe sizing)

Check for about a finger-size space at the heel of the shoe. Be sure the width of the shoe isn’t bulging out but that you can feel the sides of your feet. Try shoes on midday.

“Your feet can swell up to 5 per cent of their size in a day,” Kevin says.

Is the shoe worn out?

“We used to say a shoe lasts 500 miles. But what did that mean? Well, now we are lucky – people are wearing pedometers. We can say, on average, if you wear a shoe consistently, it’ll last about one year,” Kevin says.

Look for worn spots on the ball of the foot or a heel that is worn down. If your heels are worn down unevenly, you may want to see a pedorthist who could help examine your gait and help find the right corrective orthotics.

Is the shoe comfortable?

When you look at that pair of sandals, do you wince in pain thinking of that last time you wore them? Maybe it’s time they retire.

There’s no issue with having some fashion shoes or dressy shoes. Pain from those shoes is often associated with the activity you are doing in the shoe (like standing around for a long time at a wedding in high heels). “It’s ok to have those kinds of shoes,” Kevin says. “You aren’t going running in them.” Look for a heel that has arch support or consider adding an insole or forefoot cushion to improve comfort.

If your shoes are still in good shape but just aren’t right for you, consider donating them, or doing a shoe swap with friends.

Happy Spring Cleaning!

(A version of this post appears in the April edition of Toronto’s Streeter newspaper.)

About the author

Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.