Can wearing the wrong shoes cause leg pain?
The answer is yes, although you may be surprised to hear that it can do worse things than just giving you blisters. Your feet may be the first part affected by your shoes, but wearing the wrong footwear can have negative effects further up as well.
Whether running, walking, or standing, choosing the right shoes for your feet is essential. You can go about your daily activities with the right shoes without even thinking. But with the wrong shoes, you’ll find your day-to-day activities painful, and doing “normal” things becomes difficult.
Let’s look closely at why wearing the wrong shoes can cause leg and foot pain and how you can avoid it happening in the first place!
How Do the Wrong Shoes Affect Your Feet and Legs?
Did you know that the foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 ligaments? As you can imagine, it’s easy to injure it without even realizing it.
Your feet carry your entire body weight—even more when running or jumping. If your feet aren’t well cared for and protected, it’s highly likely that your posture and your gait will suffer, which in turn can place strain on muscles and joints further up the kinetic chain.
When you wear shoes that aren’t supportive enough or don’t fit your feet properly, they directly impact the foot’s muscles, bones, ligaments, and soft tissues. In turn, this affects the muscles, bones, ligaments, and joints above the feet as you change your gait to try and alleviate foot pain.
Let’s examine how specific shoes—the wrong ones—can affect your feet and legs.
Wearing shoes that are too narrow places extra strain on your foot. If the shoe is too narrow in the heel, you’re likely to experience blisters, which are painful and may cause you to struggle to walk.
However, it’s more common for a shoe to be too narrow in the forefoot. If this is the case, your forefoot may be compressed, which can lead to a range of foot conditions, including:
- Morton’s neuroma
- Ingrown toenails
There should be enough space in the toe box of a shoe for you to wiggle your toes without touching the front of the shoe. You also shouldn’t feel any pressure on either side of your foot.
In some cases, the shoe is of adequate width but may be slightly too short in the toe box. This usually happens when you have a narrow foot but inadvertently buy a size too small for your foot.
If your toes touch the front of the shoe when you wear it, it’s far too short. There should be at least ½-inch of space between your toes and the shoe to allow for slight forward movement while you’re walking or running.
Wearing too-short shoes can result in:
- Hammer toes
- Mallet toes
- Ingrown toenails
- Black toenails
Not Enough Arch Support
Once you’ve got the right length and width of your shoes, the next most important thing is getting the right amount of arch support. Wearing a shoe that doesn’t support your arch properly can lead to:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Peroneal tendonitis
- Posterior tibial tendonitis
- Ankle, knee, and hip pain
You should find out what kind of arch you have—high, medium, or low. In many cases, those with high arches and low arches also overpronate, which means the foot falls inwards while stepping. This can lead to extra strain on the foot and ankle, resulting in injury if not supported properly.
Not Enough Cushioning
Cushioning is also important to keep your foot safe and injury-free. The padding under your foot absorbs vibrations from your foot hitting the hard ground, preventing your joints and soft tissues from jarring.
This is especially important when you’re doing high-impact activities like running or playing sports that involve high impact from jumping and landing.
However, cushioning is still important even if you’re only walking around the office or the store. Some people will like the feel of a max cushioned shoe, while others only need a moderate amount of cushioning.
Wearing shoes without enough cushioning can lead to:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Stress fractures
- Fat pad atrophy
- Joint pain
What Kind of Shoes Should You Wear?
You should choose your shoes carefully based on your own needs. You may need to consider what exactly you need from a shoe.
The shoe you choose should have enough cushioning to protect your feet while still feeling comfortable. You should have enough arch support so that your foot stays in a neutral position while walking and doesn’t fall inwards or roll outwards.
There should also be enough room in the toe box to spread your toes out and wiggle them without being restricted.
How to Shop For the Right Shoes
Follow these tips and tricks to buy the right shoes for your feet and stop wearing the wrong shoes that cause leg and foot pain.
Shop Later In the Day
Your feet swell during the day due to normal activity or exercise. If you shop for shoes early in the morning, your feet are at their smallest. While you may get a good fit, when your feet swell later, they may be tight and uncomfortable, leading to chafing.
It’s best to shop for shoes later in the day if possible, or after you’ve exercised. Trying shoes on while your feet are slightly swollen means you can get a comfortable fit when your feet are at their largest, and you can simply lace them a little tighter if they feel slightly loose in the mornings.
If you can’t go shopping later in the day or after exercise, be mindful of this and try to buy half a size up from a comfortable fit.
Get Your Feet Measured
We highly recommend getting your feet professionally measured. You can do this at most shoe stores, where they’ll use a device that measures both the length and the width of your foot, so you know exactly what to look for in a shoe.
Get your foot measurements in inches or centimeters if you can. Not all size 8s fit similarly, as sizing can vary slightly across brands. But if you can find the centimeter or inch sizes of shoes, you’ll know immediately if they’ll be a fit or not.
You should get your feet measured at least once a year. While you don’t grow much as an adult, your feet do change shape as you age based on various things. The shoes that were right for your feet a year ago may not fit so well now!
Consider the Activity of the Shoe
It’s best to cater your shoe choice to the activity you’ll be doing while wearing those shoes. For example, if you’ll be running in the shoes, you’ll need more cushioning and support than you would in a casual shoe that you wear around the house.
Look for sport-specific shoes if you can. These are already designed to protect your feet while doing the activity. You should also remember that the cushioning will flatten over time, especially if you’re doing high-impact activities, so you’ll need to replace your sports shoes often.
Get the Right Arch Support For Your Foot
If you overpronate, wearing neutral shoes won’t offer you the right kind of support. If you have high arches or low arches, there’s a high chance you need a stability or motion control shoe to prevent you from overpronating. Not everyone with high or low arches overpronates, so it’s wise to check first.
Wearing shoes with the right arch support can significantly lower your chance of injury, pain, and discomfort.
Examine the Material of the Shoe
When buying shoes, examining the shoes’ materials is a good idea. Try to buy shoes with soft, sleek material that isn’t likely to scratch or chafe. Airflow is also important, so see how well-ventilated the shoe is.
Rough seams can rub against your foot and cause pain. Try to find a seamless shoe or one with flat seams and one that doesn’t have tags or rough material inside the shoe.
Also, make sure the soles of the shoes are sturdy, provide good grip—to prevent slipping—and make sure they’re flexible enough for your feet to move naturally.
Wear the Socks You’d Normally Wear With the Shoes
When shopping for shoes, try to wear a pair of socks that you would normally wear with those shoes.
For example, if you’re shopping for running shoes, don’t wear your thickest winter socks. Wear a normal pair of running socks that you’re likely to be wearing when you use the shoes.
This would allow you to get a feel for the shoe as you would be wearing it if you had to buy it. You can make sure there are no hot spots or uncomfortable feelings.
Remember: Feet Change
Just because a size 8 medium width fit you last year doesn’t mean it will fit you now! Feet change in many ways as you age, such as tendons relaxing, water retention due to medical conditions, foot structure changes due to injury or persistent stress, and hormonal changes.
Get your feet measured whenever you can to ensure you’re always getting the right shoes for your feet. It’s worth making sure that your feet stay protected—after all, they carry your entire body weight, and you can’t do without them!