Foot Notes: A Podiatrist’s Tips for Saving Your Feet from Hell

It's finally boot season! Do your feet hurt yet?

Fall brings beautiful foliage, brisk weather and a wardrobe full of cozy sweaters and fuzzy socks you probably forgot you owned. But if there’s one thing I can’t stand about this time of year, it’s breaking in new shoes, especially boots. I have to mentally prepare myself for the hell those first few wears are going to bring.

There’s gotta be a better way, right?

“You should never have to break in a pair of shoes. It’s all about buying the right shoe for the right activity,” says podiatrist Mallory Eisenman, who sees patients in Center City and Northeast Philly. “If you buy a pair that doesn’t fit, the shoe will always win.”

We have 26 bones in our feet, she says, more than any place in the rest of the body. The feet act as the body’s foundation, and taking improper care of them can imbalance the rest of the body and cause pain not only in your feet, heels and ankles but also in legs, back and neck.

So finding a shoe that fits—and not just looks—right should be your top priority. Shoes should be fitted to the longest toe—be sure to check; your “big” toe isn’t always the longest—and there should be about a thumb’s distance between the end of the toe and the shoe. The fit should be such that the foot doesn’t move too freely inside the shoe—that’s when irritation starts and leads to problems.

Never substitute length for width; the shoe’s natural bend should always correspond to the widest part of the foot. And be aware of height heel, and only wear what you can handle. A stiletto that’s too tall can tighten up the muscles in the back of your leg and cause shin splints.

If you continuously jam your feet into shoes that are too small, there’s a good chance you’ll develop corns, calluses or bunions, which could lead to more serious problems like bone spurs, joint pain and arthritis.

You should put new shoes through their paces at home for a while before you take them outside. “Wear them around the house for an hour straight,” says Eisenman. “If it doesn’t feel good after that, return them.”

But … sometimes you just can’t. You love your new shoes too much. What then?

Eisenman has some work-arounds. If you know there’s a certain spot on your foot or back of the heel that tends to rub and blister easily, put a dab of vaseline on that spot before wearing the new shoes out of the house. It will help reduce the friction.

If you get a blister, take a regular tea bag (not herbal), dip it in hot water, let it cool, and then put it on the area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Eisenman says the tannic acid in the tea will toughen up the skin and speed up the healing process.

When the pain goes deeper than the skin, ice is best (as long as you don’t have circulation problems.) Ice for 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off, and do not go near hot water. Eisenman says that even though you might feel like a hot-water soak is the best remedy, it actually draws more blood to the problem area and increases inflammation.

If you’re going to wear heels that are too high (tsk, tsk), do some leg stretches beforehand.

“Using one of your husband’s ugly old ties, sit on the floor with straight legs and wrap the tie around the ball of the foot,” says Eisenman. “Grab on to each end and pull.” A resistance band will do the trick, too.

If your foot is irritated in a specific area because of the shoe itself, have a shoemaker spot the shoe (stretch it in just that area) rather than stretch the entire shoe. That way, it won’t become too big and cause your foot to slide.

And there’s always inserts. “All over the counter products are about the same,” says Eisenman. “If it feels good, use it.”