Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons, Hilary Perkins.

Thanks to a lifetime of being hard on one’s feet and also physiological changes, foot pain and related issues become more common with age. While some of the foot problems older adults face can be similar to those experienced by younger adults, they can be caused by different reasons.

Dr. Brad Sonnema, president of the Canadian Podiatric Medical Association, explains that “changes that happen to the body can also happen to our feet, such as dry skin, swelling, and a thinning of the fat pads underneath our feet.” This last symptom can cause the metatarsal heads of the joints to be more prominent and cause you to experience more pain. Similarly, feeling unstable may be biomechanical in nature for a young adult, but for an older person, it may be a sign of a neurological issue.

Feet change over time as ligaments stretch, making remeasuring shoe size important. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, TLR Photography.

Another foot problem amongst many older adults? Wearing shoes that are too narrow in width, depth and length. Ligaments relax as we age, so you may find that your shoe size has changed from what it was a couple of decades ago. Dr. Sonnema says it can be quite common among older adults to wear the wrong size shoe, if you’re considering only the length. “Just because you’ve always worn size 7 doesn’t mean you should force yourself into a size 7 [later in life],” he says.

He advises seeing a podiatrist if you are experiencing any pain. A proper evaluation will identify any foot issues and concerns an individual may have.The doctor will be able to assess the root cause of foot pain and recommend the best course of action.

What to look for in a supportive shoe

Dr. Sonnema, who works out of White Oaks Foot and Ankle Clinic in Edmonton, says finding the best shoe for you should first focus on function, rather than fashion. Before you go shopping, he offered some key factors to look for in a shoe that’s good for you from heel to toe, including:

  1. Check the stiffness of the sole. Hold a shoe between both hands and press your hands together. The shoe should bend at the toes, rather than around the arch, since this is where your foot bends naturally.
  2. Twist the shoe. You want the sole to be fairly stiff when you attempt to twist it in your hands. A stiffer sole means the sole will offer adequate support.
  3. Look at the heel counter. The heel pocket should be deep enough and stiff enough to hold your heel securely in place so that your foot has enough stability and control.

He also suggests looking for features such as non-slip soles, a stable platform, Velcro so that they’re easily adjustable, and adequate toe room, whether that’s in terms of depth or width for your particular feet.

If you love wearing heels now and then, he recommends ones that are less than an inch high and to wear them only for special occasions. “While I appreciate that patients want to look good, part of the reason they’re experiencing foot discomfort is the shoes they’re wearing,” says Dr. Sonnema.

For Toronto-based shoe designed Ron White, stylish shoes and being good-to-your-feet are not mutually exclusive when it comes to shoe design. As a longtime champion of shoes that are both beautiful and comfortable, he incorporates elements focusing on comfort, such as a compressed padding called Poron incorporated into the soles, plus hidden and visible elastics in his shoe designs, which helps make them flexible and adjustable.

Ultimately, finding a shoe that is comfortable for one individual may be entirely different for next person’s feet, so asking about a store’s return policy and wearing a new pair around your house is a good practice.

Fashionable options worth checking out

•In trendy blush, this style, Orabella, from Ron White taps into the “athleisure”  look.

•In a neutral tone and with a moderate heel, this pair of Calla Lily Beige Sue from Clarks can work for all of your special occasions through the summer.

•These Babett T Moon Rock from Ecco offer enough support for your after-dinner strolls and can be worn with jeans or a summer dress. 

•Birkenstocks are a classic that is popular for both men and women of all ages. Available in two widths make them a good option for those with wide feet.

•A classic slip-on sneaker, this Josh shoe from Ron White is one that men can wear for errands or meeting the guys for a drink.