Choosing shoes to reduce foot pain

This information is about choosing suitable shoes to reduce foot pain and accommodate insoles. 

What to look for in a good shoe

Depth of toe box

The front of the shoe needs to be deep enough not to press on the tops of the toes, otherwise you can get corns. If you have clawed toes, you will need shoes which have extra depth. A stretchy, soft front part of the shoe might help.

Shoe length

Around 1cm space between the end of your longest toe and the end of your shoe is ideal. Feet stretch as you walk. If you can feel your toes touching the end of the shoe when you are standing, the shoe is too short.

Width of shoe, and toe shape

Narrow or pointed shoes can squash the foot. Over time, this can cause nail problems, corns or damage to nerves. Wide-fitting shoes give more space across the ball of the foot, but the front of the shoe needs to be round or square, so that it doesn’t squeeze the toes.

The sole of the shoe

If you have wide shoes but your little toes still get squashed, look at the bottom of the shoe. Imagine a line, or hold a pencil, in the centre of the heel. Does the outside front edge of the shoe curve inwards compared to the heel? Many shoes are made like this. A straighter shoe shape will help avoid squashing the little toes.

Hard surfaces like pavements are unnatural. To give your feet some shock absorption, buy shoes with thicker soles and soft padding. Trainers are ideal for this, and often have a rocker at the forefoot helping the toes to propel forward.

You can read our information about choosing athletic footwear


A shoe needs to hold on to you, not you to it. Slip-on shoes have no fastening. These hold on by fitting tightly round the toes, and the foot muscles tense to keep the shoe on at the heel. This can cause pain and pressure at the front part of the foot (forefoot). Laces or Velcro® allow the shoe to be fastened on the arch of the foot. This allows enough space for your toes to function properly.

Heel height

High heels tend to shift your body weight forward causing foot and back problems. Try to limit heel height to under 1 and a half inches. Shoes with a wider heel are more stable.

If you have worn high heels for a long time, the calf muscles can shorten so you can’t walk comfortably without them. If you change from years of heels into flat shoes, ask your podiatrist if you need to stretch your calf muscles or strengthen the muscles on the top of your foot.


Choose leather or ‘breathable’ synthetic shoe uppers (the top part of your shoe that wraps around and covers your foot). This allows air to circulate around the foot. Plastic or synthetic materials stop sweat evaporating and make the feet hot, which can encourage fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot.

Wearing ‘sensible’ shoes

Wear ‘sensible’ shoes for more than three-quarters of everyday walking or standing. Save ‘fashion’ shoes for special occasions, and try not to walk too far in them.

Foot insoles (orthoses)

The podiatrist might issue foot insoles. The ideal shoe for this will have a removable liner. If the insole is not removable, you will need plenty of depth to the shoe to allow room for the insole, without it squashing the toes. 

You can read our information about foot insoles

Shoe shopping tips

  • Try on shoes with the type of socks or tights (hosiery) you would normally wear with them
  • Shop at the end of the day so your feet will be at their largest if they tend to swell  
  • If the shoe does not feel right when you try it on, don’t rely on ‘breaking it in’ 
  • Try shoes indoors on carpet until you are sure they are comfortable so there is more possibility of being able to change them if they are not suitable

Ask the podiatrist for more information about running shoes, children’s shoes or shoes for people with diabetes.

More information and support

Versus Arthritis is a UK charity providing information and support for people living with arthritis. You can read their information about foot and ankle pain

The Royal College of Podiatry have information for patients about different types of foot conditions.

Resource number: 4671/VER2
Last reviewed: July 2022
Next review due: July 2025 

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the community foot health (podiatry) team.

Phone: 020 3049 7900, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, or email: [email protected]. We aim to respond to emails within 2 working days. 

For emergencies outside of these hours, go to your nearest emergency department (A&E). 

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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