Do you aim to live a healthy lifestyle? Chances are you make the effort to eat clean, get the required 150 minutes of moderate exercise (if not more), and spend some time outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air.
Maybe you’re even careful about what hygiene products you use, or what sort of chemicals you allow in your cleaning products. But there’s something that you may never have considered that can have a negative impact on your health—your shoes.
What are the worst shoes for your feet? It’s essential that you know which shoes are healthy and which are unhealthy so you can treat your feet right. Sore, restricted, and unsupported feet can have a huge effect—not just on the feet, but on your knees, hips, pelvis, lower back, and even your upper back and neck.
In this article, we’ll highlight shoes that can be detrimental to your health. We’ll explain how they change the shape of your feet and your posture, and what effect this has on your body.
We will also offer some advice on what features to look for when buying shoes, to ensure that you’re choosing footwear that contributes to positive health.
Shoes to Avoid
The first step to knowing whether or not your shoes are healthy, is to know what features to avoid in footwear.
These shoes can damage your feet and leave you with pain and constant discomfort.
1. High Heels
High heels are some of the worst shoes for your feet because of their design. They’re made for fashion, not for comfort or support.
Especially when worn over a long period of time, high heels can lead to irreversible damage to the muscle, tendons, ligaments, and even the bones of the feet.
By having the heel higher than the toe, your body weight is shifted onto the forefoot. When this happens consistently, it drastically increases your chance of developing foot problems such as fat pad atrophy, metatarsalgia, Morton’s neuroma, calluses, hammertoes, bunions, and even ingrown toenails.
Not only that, but the position of the feet also places excessive stress on the Achilles tendon, which can cause it to shorten. This could lead to pain and discomfort in the tendon when the feet are in their normal position.
High heel shoes also offer little to no cushioning, which leaves the bones and tissues of the feet open to jarring as the shock of each step vibrates through them with nothing to absorb the shock.
2. Pointed-Toe Shoes
Shoes with pointed toes can cause pain and discomfort as they unnaturally compress the forefoot. This prolonged pressure on the front of your foot can lead to nerve pain and damage—metatarsalgia and Morton’s neuroma—bunions, hammertoes, and increase your chance of developing blisters.
If you wear pointed shoes often, this constant pressure on the front of the foot can cause permanent damage to the foot nerves, bones, and muscles. There’s a chance of the foot becoming deformed, which can affect your everyday actions.
The combination of high heels and pointed toes is a particularly damaging combination, as both place an unnecessary amount of pressure on the forefoot.
3. Flip Flops
Most flip flops provide no support or cushioning for the muscles and bones of the foot. A lack of arch support can cause the foot to be positioned unnaturally, increasing the chances of overpronating as there’s nothing underneath the arch.
This lack of support can lead to foot conditions like plantar fasciitis—inflammation of the plantar fascia due to overstretching—Achilles tendonitis—due to the unnatural and unsupported position of the foot—and others.
The minimalist design of flip flops also means you can’t get a good lockdown on the foot as they’re not adjustable. This can increase your chance of developing hammertoes, as the toes tend to grip to the flip flops to keep your feet in place.
The lack of support for the arch and subsequent rolling of the foot can also have an effect further up the kinetic chain. This could cause pain in the knee, hip, pelvis, and lower back as well.
You can find flip flops that offer arch support, but you need to shop carefully. See our reviews here.
4. Ballet Flats
If you’re a ballet dancer, you can’t help but wear ballet shoes! But everyday ballet flats—also known as pumps—offer little to no support and protection for the feet.
As per their name, these shoes are flat underneath and have no arch support or other supporting features, such as a deep heel cup or cushioning.
Due to the lack of support and cushioning, the feet are left open to jarring vibrations and harsh impacts. As these shoes are minimalist in nature, they also offer no protection from the elements.
There’s no way to adjust the fit of ballet flats, so unless you have the perfect fit from the start, these shoes may also end up being slightly too big or too small.
If the shoes are too big, it could lead to hammertoes as your toes may grip the shoe to keep it in place. If the shoes are too small, you may experience chafing and blisters, as well as foot problems that come from the forefoot being compressed.
5. Cowboy Boots
While they offer good ankle support, cowboy boots are not shaped to contour to the natural shape of the foot. This means that the foot can’t stay in its natural position while wearing these shoes.
The narrow, pointed toe box can place excessive pressure on the forefoot, compressing the tissues and nerves of the foot. This may lead to metatarsalgia, chafing and blisters, neuromas, and bunions.
They often also lack support in the arch, which leaves you open to developing painful conditions like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and painful joints throughout the kinetic chain.
Choosing a pair of cowboy boots with a square toe box or a wide toe box will help to remove pressure from the forefoot. However, it’s still likely that there will be no arch support in the shoe.
Mules are a style of shoe that feature an open back, which means there’s no support around the heel or support for the ankle.
Without sturdy ankle support, you’re more prone to twisting an ankle, suffering from overpronation or underpronation—resulting in ankle, knee, and hip pain—and placing excess stress on the foot muscles as your foot needs to work harder to keep itself in position.
They can range from completely flat to high-heeled, so the dangers that come with high-heeled shoes and pointed-toed shoes are also likely to be present in mules.
There’s also a noticeable lack of arch support. Even if the shoe does contain arch support, it’s difficult for the foot to reap the benefits as the lack of heel support allows the foot to move around, removing the effectiveness of the arch support.
What to Look For in Shoes
Although there are many types of shoes you should avoid, there are still plenty of shoes that can be good for your feet. When shopping for shoes, these are the features you should consider.
The type of support you need depends on your foot. If you overpronate, you will need a shoe that’s labeled a “stability shoe”. These shoes offer built-in support on the medial side, designed specifically to keep your foot in a neutral position.
If you already have a neutral foot that doesn’t roll excessively inward or outward when you walk, you can wear a neutral shoe. However, it’s still important to ensure that the shoe offers good support to protect and align your feet.
You will need to consider if the arch support is low, medium, or high. Along with appropriate arch support, there should be a stable and structured heel cup, which keeps your foot in position within the shoe, allowing the arch support to stay in the right place.
People who need more support in the forefoot should consider shoes with metatarsal support. If you can’t find shoes with metatarsal support, you should consider adding a metatarsal pad or an insole that has a metatarsal dome.
People who have weak or unstable ankles should also consider a shoe with great ankle support.
A lack of support can place excess pressure on the bones, ligaments, and tendons of the foot, as well as the joints from the foot to the hip due to misalignment.
You may be susceptible to tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, or fallen arches if your shoes don’t have adequate arch support. You may also have an increased chance of metatarsalgia if you don’t have enough forefoot support.
The cushioning in a shoe is responsible for both comfort and shock absorption. Every time you take a step, your muscles, tendons, and bones are subjected to vibration that can cause pain.
If there’s good cushioning in the shoe, it helps to absorb those vibrations and protect your feet from damage.
Athletic shoes—running shoes—usually come in max cushioned, medium, and minimalist. Dress shoes and work shoes often have very little cushioning in them, which can place the feet under extra stress.
Most cushioning is made of foam. Some shoes may have gel cushioning in them too, which is excellent for shock absorption.
The amount of cushioning you choose will depend on your comfort level, but it’s advisable to choose a shoe with a good amount of cushioning. For dress shoes and work shoes, we highly recommend adding an insole with some level of cushion.
Comfort is about more than just cushioning. The shoe you choose should have a comfortable heel collar and upper that doesn’t chafe.
There should be no friction between the shoe and your foot, and the cushioning level should be comfortable for your needs.
Some shoes take a bit of time to break in. However, first prize is to find a pair of shoes that feels comfortable from the moment you put them on.
If your shoes are too big, your foot will move around and the support won’t stay in the right place. But if your shoes are too small, there’s a high chance of developing blisters and foot conditions like bunions, metatarsalgia, and hammertoes.
The shoe you choose should have 1 to 1.5 cm—0.4 to 0.6 inches—of space between your toes and the front of the shoe. It should be wide enough to hug your midfoot comfortably without feeling restrictive.
It’s important to consider both the width and the length of the shoe when you buy in order to get the best fit.
Breathability is important in a shoe to prevent overheating and lower the chance of developing odor-causing bacteria.
Running shoes are often breathable enough to provide good ventilation for the foot, but work shoes and dress shoes may be less breathable.
If you can, choose a breathable shoe. If you have to wear a shoe that’s less breathable, we recommend wearing a moisture-wicking pair of socks or insoles.
You should note that very breathable shoes may be cold in the winter months as they allow air to flow through the shoes and over your feet. You may want to choose less breathable shoes to wear in cold weather and very breathable ones in hot weather.
Wide Toe Box
A wide toe box is essential to allow the forefoot to spread out in a natural, comfortable way. If your toe box is too small or too pointed, you’re at a higher risk of developing metatarsalgia, hammer toes, bunions, and other conditions.
A wide, rounded or square toe box is the best choice. Make sure there is enough room both in front of your toes and above your toes—the upper shouldn’t be against your toes.
Adjustability is important as it allows you to get a near custom fit on your feet. This makes sure the support in the shoe is always in the right place and increases the comfort of the shoes.
Traditional laces or hook-and-loop Velcro straps are the best types of adjustability. Slip-on shoes may have elastic gorings, but these shoes are not adjustable enough to fit like a glove.