If you've experienced foot pain, corns or callouses, foot deformities, or you aren't feeling as steady on your feet as usual, you may want to get your shoe size measured. According to a 2018 study, only about 28 to 37% of people are actually wearing shoes of the right length and width.1
Here's what you should know about the consequences of wearing ill-fitting shoes and how you can protect your feet—and your health—with the perfect fit.
Foot Health and the Wrong-Size Shoes
Several studies have now demonstrated how ill-fitting shoes can have a negative effect on health and why well-fitting shoes are so important.
Peripheral neuropathy is a painful and usually irreversible condition with symptoms of pins and needles in the feet and a decreased ability to feel where the feet are in space.
A 2017 study found that, among older adults with a history of foot lesions, such as corns and calluses, only 14% were wearing the right size shoes.2 Thirty seven percent of the population reported evidence of neuropathy; tight-fitting shoes can worsen the symptoms of neuropathy by putting pressure on the nerves.
Other conditions that are more common in older adults, such as diabetic neuropathy, can work together with poorly fitting shoes to worsen both the symptoms and prognosis.
Peripheral neuropathy related to diabetes results in nearly 100,000 amputations a year in the United States and is the reason that people with diabetes (as well as other medical conditions) are told to not ignore burning feet or numb toes.3
Foot Pain and Deformities
A 2018 scientific review of 18 studies looking at shoes and foot problems found that poorly-fitting shoes were associated with foot pain and foot conditions, such as lesser toe deformity (hammer toe), corns, and calluses.1 Notably, people with diabetes tended to wear shoes that were too narrow.
It's not just shoes that are too tight that can lead to pain and deformity. In some cases, the shape of the shoe may not be a good fit to contour to the shape of your foot. If you already have a foot deformity of some kind, for example, shoes with a smooth shape that causes pressure on the irregularly-shaped bony areas of your foot can make it worse.
If your shoes are too narrow or short, the extra pressure placed on your toe can lead to the edge of a toenail growing into your skin. Ingrown toenails can cause the skin around your nail to become red or infected.
Ingrown toenails are most common on the big toe, but can also occur on other toes. To avoid this issue, ensure that you have properly fitting shoes and are not cutting your nails too short or rounded at the edges.
Decreased Quality of Life
If your shoes are constantly hurting your feet, the rest of your life is bound to suffer for it. According to one study, women in particular noted that foot symptoms negatively affected their quality of life.4 This is likely because women's shoes are often not designed to be as functional or comfortable as men's shoes.
In addition, foot pain and foot conditions related to poor-fitting shoes can lead to falls, reduced mobility, and related loss of independence in older adults.
Shoe Size Changes
Many often think of foot size as being static; once you reach age 18, or at least when you stop growing, your feet no longer change in size. But your feet change in many ways over the course of a lifetime:
As you age, tendons relax and your feet can naturally widen.5
Certain medical conditions and medications cause water retention, which can cause foot swelling (and, therefore, size difference).
During pregnancy, feet are affected by hormones that often result in an increase in shoe size.
Even in younger people, feet swell slightly by the end of the day. They also swell when engaging in an upright activity such as walking, running, or playing sports.
While your shoes may fit right in the morning or before your workout, they may be too tight later in the day. Even people who wear "sensible" shoes can experience problems with fit.
Signs Your Shoes Are the Wrong Size
Pain and discomfort are some obvious signs that your shoes are the wrong size, but sometimes that is less clear. If you notice any of these issues, it may be time to check your shoe size:6
Bruising on your toenail:
Toenail loss or damage
Skin irritation around your toenails
You can visit a shoe store to be properly measured. There's no one-size-fits-all answer to the ideal frequency of foot measurements. Some experts recommend that you measure your feet at least once or twice a year, or at least any time you buy new shoes.
It is also worth noting that not every brand of shoes has the same fit, regardless of size. For example, a size 8 in one brand may feel more like a size 7.5 in another. If possible, try on before you buy.
A Word From Verywell
There are many possible reasons behind foot pain, so if your feet are hurting now, it's important to make an appointment to see your doctor. Given the statistics, however, there's a good chance that you only need to look down to find the cause. Regardless, take the time to have your feet properly measured and purchase shoes that fit you best.