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What footwear should I choose?

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Comfort should be the main consideration when choosing shoes, although for most people it’s important that their footwear looks good too. If your feet are painful or unusually shaped you may need to compromise a little on the style. Shoes that don’t fit properly can damage your feet, and high heels or shoes that pinch your feet are likely to cause deformities such as bunions or hammer toes.

Your feet may change shape as you get older, especially if you have arthritis, so you may need to try a different size or width fitting. If your footwear protects your feet against injuries, supports them and keeps them warm, dry and comfortable, it’s doing its job.

Leather uppers are usually the most comfortable if you have foot problems. Look for a flexible sole unless you’ve been advised by a doctor or podiatrist that rigid soles are better for your particular foot problem. If you have hammer toes or prominent joints, look for a smooth lining without seams. If you need special insoles or orthoses, make sure there’s enough room to fit them in your shoes, especially around your toes.

Slippers may feel the most comfortable for hammer toes and prominent joints around the house, but make sure the soles provide enough cushioning. Always wear shoes when you’re outside to make sure your feet are properly supported.

Struggling to find the right shoes?

You may find it difficult to find shoes that fit well if you have:

  • permanently swollen feet
  • very narrow, long or broad feet
  • hammer toes
  • bunions.

A number of shops are beginning to stock extra-wide and extra-deep shoes, which can help. It may also be possible to have high-street footwear adapted by an orthotist, so ask them for advice.

Some people have footwear prescribed especially for them by their consultant, GP or by an HPC-registered podiatrist, but they’re usually provided by an orthotist. You can also opt to see an orthotist or orthopaedic shoemaker privately. Each NHS hospital trust will have its own arrangements for footwear referral and entitlements

What do I need to think about when I'm buying shoes?

Have your feet measured if they’ve become wider over the years or have changed shape. Have them measured while you’re standing because they may change shape when you stand up. Many shops have experienced fitters who can help you with this.

Try shopping later in the afternoon. If your feet tend to swell, they’ll be at their largest at that time.

Judge a shoe by how it feels on your foot and not just by the size marked on the shoe. Size varies between shoe brands and style. Think about how the shoe fits around your toes, under your soles and at the backs of your heels.

Always buy your shoes to fit your larger foot – many people have one foot bigger than the other. You can use an insole in the other shoe. There should be at least 1 cm (3/8 inch) of room at the front of your longest toe.

Try shoes on with the type of socks or stockings you normally wear or with any insoles or orthoses you normally use. Some insoles may need extra depth, especially around your toes.

Don’t buy shoes to break-in later – the right shoes for you will be comfortable when you first try them on.

Soles should be light, hard-wearing and flexible. The sole should be able to bend along an imaginary line drawn from the base of your big toe to the base of your little toe.

Buy shoes that have both leather uppers and inners (the inner lining) if possible. These are more breathable than inners made of synthetic materials and will help you to avoid dampness and fungal infections.

Look for dark colours and a suede finish if you’re worried about the appearance of your feet – they’ll help to disguise the problem.


You may need insoles in your shoes for a number of reasons:

  • to pad out the shoe of your smaller foot if you have one foot bigger than the other
  • to support the arch of your foot 
  • to help arthritis in the joint across the middle of your foot (the midtarsal joint).

Insoles will often take up half a shoe size, so take along your largest shoes when you go for an insole fitting. Sometimes you may need to buy bigger shoes to fit your insoles, although this isn’t always the case. Take your insoles along when you buy new shoes.

If you need to wear a prescribed insole, don’t try to wear it all day when you first get it. Wear it for a short period at first and gradually build up to longer periods. If you change your shoes indoors, either have a second pair of insoles for your indoor shoes or remember to swap the insoles over. Your feet will return to their old shape while indoors and will never be comfortable if you don’t continue to wear your insoles.


Lace-up shoes can be difficult to fasten if you have arthritis in your hands. Here are a few alternatives:

  • Elastic laces can be easier to use because one pull ensures a snug fit and they don’t need to be tied.
  • Many shoes are now available with Velcro fastenings, which can be done up and adjusted using only one hand.
  • A zip fastening can be easier to manage than laces or buckles, and a ring (such as a keyring) added onto the zip can make it easier to pull up.

There are also a number of devices available to help you put on socks, tights/stockings and shoes. Useful leaflets on this and other subjects related to the feet and footwear are available from the Disabled Living Foundation or through your local occupational therapist.

Wearing slippers around the house

Many people prefer to wear slippers in the house. However, slippers aren’t a good idea for those who have to wear special insoles, and they may increase your risk of having a fall. The uppers of slippers are often soft, so they’re comfortable for hammer toes and prominent joints, but the soles may not have enough cushioning and grip.

Like outdoor shoes, slippers should fit properly and shouldn’t be too loose. You should avoid backless or high-heeled slippers. The features of the ideal slipper are generally the same as for the ideal shoe.

Wearing safety footwear

If you need to wear safety boots for work, they should display the British Kitemark or CE mark. If your existing safety footwear is uncomfortable, you may need to talk to your employer about getting alternatives. Safety versions of extra-depth and cushioned shoes are available. If you suffer from toe or foot ulceration, make sure that safety footwear isn’t causing pressure or pain to the wounds.

Dealing with cold feet

Many slippers, shoes and boots are available with linings such as sheepskin or synthetic fur to help keep the feet warm. Wearing thicker socks or two pairs (as long as they’re not too tight) not only helps to keep your feet warm but also provides extra cushioning under your soles. Keeping your feet warm will also be easier if you keep the rest of your body warm.

The Raynaud’s & Scleroderma Association produces a leaflet with tips on keeping warm.

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Foot experts highlight dangers of inappropriate shoes

High heels

Experts are concerned that Britain may be on the brink of an arthritis epidemic, after a survey found that many people regularly wear high-heeled shoes and use inappropriate footwear for sports.

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