Find Your Footing: A Shoe Fitting Guide to Keep Your Feet Healthy

Posted by Orthotics Direct on 2021 May 10th

There’s more to choosing the right shoe than getting the size right. Yes, size matters - but so do many other factors. The typical shoe-shopper overlooks this fact and it’s one of the reasons why many people live with achy feet (and backs, hips, knees) despite wearing the right-sized shoe.

There are numerous ways that shoes affect foot health and comfort, including the shape of your foot, arch structure, gait patterns and much more. In this post, we will take a detailed look at all the factors you should consider when buying shoes, factors which most of us ignore.

Foot Length - Just a Starter for Proper Shoe Fit

Let’s start with the obvious - shoe size, or in this context, foot length. It doesn’t take a scientist to tell you that wearing the wrong shoe size is a recipe for discomfort. Wear shoes that are too loose and you just might trip. Wear shoes that are too tight and your toes may blister up and scream at you in pain. So picking appropriately-sized shoes is a good starting point.

But don’t make this one mistake that many shoppers make - confusing shoe size with foot size (length). They’re not synonymous with each other. Your foot expands slightly as the day goes by and that’s why sometimes a perfectly-fitted pair of shoes may feel tight in later hours. Nevertheless, your foot stays roughly the same size.

Shoes don’t change shape, but shoes designated as being the same size can fit you differently based on the make and style of the shoe. For example, a men’s classic cut from Adidas available in size 10 may fit quite differently than a men’s boot from Timberland also available in size 10, and vice-versa. So when picking shoe size, don’t assume that your ideal number size applies for all shoes. Treat each pair of shoes as its own unique size and try them on first.

Foot Width & Shape Matter in Shoe Fitting

The next point we want to tackle is foot width and shape, because they’re often forgotten in the shadow of foot length. In fact, shoe/foot size is very much about width and shape as well.

Case in point, just as some people have short, medium, long or very long feet, some of us have narrow feet, wide feet, and “regular” feet.

Width is especially important in shoe fitting when you shop for orthotics, because wider feet and narrower feet have their own challenges. Squeezing wide feet into narrow shoes is not only uncomfortable but also, a trigger for bunions. Sinking narrow feet into wider shoes will simply feel slack, and the extra room means less of a snug fit and less stability.

Fortunately, determining the proper shoe fit for the width of your feet is simple. Measure both feet (since one is likely larger than the other) and pick shoes that approximate the width of your feet. So if you’ve got wide feet, then shop for shoes with a wider build. If you’ve got narrow feet, shop for shoes that fit narrow ones.

Of course, it shouldn’t end there. Just as it is with foot length, two shoes of the same width (ie. narrow) can fit your feet quite differently, especially if they are from different brands. So the ultimate litmus test is to try them on. Just make sure to keep a few things in mind:

  • Fit/measure your larger foot first - adjustments can always be made to accommodate the smaller one
  • The widest portion of your feet should sit comfortably in the widest part of your shoe
  • Your heels should feel comfortable and ever-so-snug in the shoe (for as little slippage as possible)
  • Allow for a little extra space in the shoe, ideally, a ⅜’ to ½” of space between your longest toe and the shoe itself

When trying to figure out how shoes should fit, always think about the width and overall structure of your foot - not just the length.

Heel Counters - Not to Be Ignored When Shopping for Shoes

The Achilles Heel of many shoes is that they provide little...well (excuse the pun) heel support. If you’re simply shoe shopping for trendy, colourful shoes that look good on Instagram, you can ignore this factor. But if you really want to up your shoe game for healthy feet, then you need to buy shoes with a strong heel counter.

The heel counter of the shoe is the hard piece in the back of a shoe that controls and stabilizes heel motion laterally (side-to-side) when you walk or run. The stronger the heel counter the better, because it provides more support to the heel and the foot overall.

You can test the strength of a heel counter for yourself by resting the shoe in the palm of your hand and putting your thumb in the mid-portion of the heel counter to push the back of the shoe. If it doesn’t bend much, then that shoe in particular has a strong heel counter (which is ideal). The opposite is true as well.

Torsion Stability - A Twist in How Shoes Should Fit

A shoe’s torsional stability refers to how easily it twists or not. Ideally, orthotic-friendly shoes should have some degree of flexibility, but not too much. The right amount of flexibility allows the foot to flex and move naturally, but it also has some rigidity to prevent your foot from being twisted or turned excessively (as this could lead to injury).

Also, a balanced amount of torsional stability helps to reduce muscle fatigue in the foot. The test for this one is simple: grab opposite ends of the shoe and twist them in opposite directions. Too much or too little is not good. It should twist slightly but overall, twisting the shoe should feel difficult.

Closely related to how much a shoe twists is how much it bends. Again, too much bending could signal trouble - that a shoe lacks stability. It shouldn’t bend in the middle at all. It should only bend near the front where the ball of your foot rests, which is where feet bend naturally.

You can determine whether your shoe is a proper fit in this regard with the midfoot bend test. Simply hold both ends of the shoe (front and back) and bring your hands together as if you’re trying to fold it. If it doesn’t bend then congrats - your shoe will provide plenty of stability and support. Too much of a bend, however, is a sign of poor stability and you’re better off putting that shoe back on the shelf!

A Deep & Wide Toe Box - A Key Factor When You Shop Orthotics

This one might sound a bit contradictory to some of the advice we gave above, especially for those of you who have narrow or regular-width feet. But hear us out.

The toe box is not the same as having a wide shoe per se (although this is common). Wider shoes can still have narrow and shallow toe boxes. To refresh your memory, a toe box is the section of a shoe that surrounds the toes. Generally speaking, a wider toe box is advantageous to ALL of us, because it provides extra room for toes and prevents squeezing and pressure of the toes (which can lead to injury).

With that said, a deep and wide toe box is also advantageous because they allow you to insert custom made orthotics easier than shoes with narrow/shallow toe boxes. So if you already need or think you may need to wear orthotics insoles, make sure to shop for shoes that have more width and depth in the toe box.

Shoe Fitting Also Depends on Your Daily Activities

Don’t forget that your personal hobbies and daily routine will dictate, to some extent, what type of shoes you should wear. Let’s get some obvious ones out the way.

If you’re a runner, then you’ll want to get shoes tailored for runners, ones that reduce impact and absorb shock, while enabling you to maximize your stride. If you’re an athlete of a different sport, then you’ll need to wear sport-specific shoes (ie. cleats, spikes, cross-trainers) albeit ones that fit your foot type and allow for custom made orthotics (if necessary).

If you’re on your feet all day, perhaps, working in an industry that entails lots of standing, then you’ll need shoes that have a tad more space for toes to move. However, for such individuals, what you really need is a cushy midsole for comfort and cushioning.

If you’re a diabetic, then you will need shoes that are adequately lined and equipped with extra space for toes so that they don’t get squeezed. These two features are vital because they can prevent toes from getting scrapes, which could turn into slow-healing wounds and diabetic ulcers that often get infected.

As you can see from the three examples above, your activities and current state of health play a major role in helping you find a properly fitting shoe.

Shoe Fitting: There’s More to it Than Meets the Eye

Whether you’ve got foot trouble, run competitively or just want to safeguard your precious feet, the proper shoe fit is essential. You may have spent years obsessing about shoe size when in reality, that’s only one aspect of shoe fitting.

However, giving consideration to the other factors mentioned above will help you pick the absolute best shoe for your feet. And in the long run, that can prevent foot pains, discomfort and wear-and-tear from striking you too early or even affecting you at all. You might even find your favourite sports and activities easier to perform in.

Proper shoe fitting doesn’t have to be a hassle, however. Thanks to our very own foam/digital casting, you can learn everything you need about your foot to find the right footwear and orthotics for you!