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What Makes a Shoe Comfortable?

by Dr. Marybeth Crane

If you are like most women (and some men), you have at least 50 pairs of shoes in your closet and can't or won't wear many of them. They feel great or look awesome in the store, but by the time they get home and you pull them out to show all your friends or for an event; they hurt! Why is this? Why can't most women find a comfortable shoe? A better question maybe is, what really constitutes a comfortable shoe?

Wow! Didn't realize this was a difficult question, but after discussing what makes up a comfortable shoe with hundreds of women, it turns out there is no one criteria that makes a shoe comfortable. In fact, the "comfort" of a shoe has even been measured in a 16 step process by SATRA (Shoe and Allied Trades Research Association). Are you kidding me? Sixteen steps to determine the comfort of a shoe? As much as that is a valid scientific way to assess shoes, it has to be easier than that!

Let's discuss this a little further. What are we looking for in a comfortable shoe? I think it comes down to correct size, shape, stability and whether we like to admit it or


Our feet are often different sizes and widths. The size you measure doesn't always fit the best. Shoes of the same size and width also can vary substantially due to manufacturing and materials. You want to allow 5/8" room between the end of the longest toes and the end of the shoe (one thumb width). This is often the 2nd toe, not the great toe. Also, try on shoes at the end of the day. Your foot does swell and it is bigger I the afternoon than in the morning. Note: Most people are wearing their shoes too small. If your feet are truly different sizes, buy the bigger pair. Better to add a filler to the smaller side than to try to stretch the larger one. If you are going to wear socks with your shoes, have them with you when you try them on. Don't guess that the nylon sock thing available at the shoe store is the right thickness. When in doubt, buy the wider shoe. Most people in the United States actually need a wide not just because of the width of your foot but the thickness of your foot.


The only people I know that look at the shape of a shoe are podiatrists or runners. A shoe is made on a distinct last. This determines the shape of the shoe. A shoe can be curved, semi-curved, or straight lasted. Determine the shape of your foot then try to find a shoe that is made off a last that is the same shape. A straight foot in a curved last is like putting a round peg in a square hole. Not comfortable!



How rigid is the shoe? How rigid is your foot? If you have a wide, flat foot; then you need a stable shoe. If you have a high arched, rigid foot; then a more cushioned flexible shoe will be more comfortable. A great way to determine if a shoe is stable is to look at the rigidness of the heel counter (the rear end of the shoe) and also to do the twist test. If you can make a shoe pretzel, chances are it is not a stable shoe.


This is the zen factor. It doesn't matter how well a shoe fits if you can't stand what it looks like and won't wear it. Choose a style you like to look at and all of a sudden it is instantaneously more comfortable. Funny how the power of suggestion works that way.

So, what have we learned? Shoes that are comfortable happen to fit well, be relatively stable and stylish are our favorites. There is no one factor that determines the comfort of a shoe. The last question to factor into comfort should be fro what purpose is the shoe going to be worn for? A fuzzy bedroom slipper is comfortable around the house, but not at a ball or a tennis match.

Truthfully, the question of what constitutes a comfortable shoe really doesn't have one answer. If it did, then the shoe industry wouldn't give us so many choices. Take my advice ladies, clean out the closet. Get rid of the shoes that do not fit, never fit and never will fit. Remember to measure your feet every time you get a new pair of shoes and keep these tips on comfort handy for your next shopping trip. Stop buying shoes that aren't comfortable! Your checkbook and your feet will thank you.

Dr Marybeth Crane is a board certified podiatric foot and ankle surgeon with helpful tips to make your feet last a lifetime! For more foot and ankle health information and doctor-approved foot care products and a copy of her FREE BOOK!, visit her website or peruse her blog.


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