Help me figure out how to Do Shoes!
January 3, 2016 10:09 PM   Subscribe

My feet and ankles are annoying. I cannot find shoes that are comfortable. Plenty of excruciating detail inside.

I went shoe shopping recently, because all my shoes are near or past they end of their useful lives. It... did not go well, to put it mildly. I ended up buying one pair of sneakers that don't even fit particularly well, out of desperation. I'd ideally like to have a pair of flats and/or ankle boots, and two pairs of sneakers (one clean one for the gym and work, one for hiking/walking on grass or dirt).

I have a variety of problems with my feet and ankles, one consequence of which is that I can never find shoes that are actually comfortable and support my feet and ankles. I'm looking for suggestions for specific types of shoes or inserts that address my problems, specific services that custom fit your shoes, or specific foot doctors that you personally know are good at helping with shoes. Please be specific.

Here are the issues:

I have old injuries (sprained both ankles badly, broke right foot cuboid bone). I have post-traumatic arthritis in my right foot, and general pain/soreness in both, with occasional wobbliness. I'd really like some significant ankle support, but many many shoes and even boots these days do not ride high on the ankle, they allow too much wobble. I need additional arch support other than what's normally found in women's shoes.

I have narrow feet, or at least I used to. I have worn medium width shoes for many years, because shoe stores have gone from not stocking them as much as other widths, to stocking them NEVER EVER AT ALL even at huge outlets. Wearing medium width shoes compounds the wobbliness problem.

I have a leg length difference of almost a half inch. The left leg is shorter than the right.

My feet are two different sizes. The right is about a women's 9 1/2 and the left is more like a women's 10. I would strongly prefer not to buy two different $izes every time I want $hoes.

I've always known about the foot size difference (it's been there since I was a kid), but when shopping for shoes recently I also identified that the big toe on the left foot also hooks out medially. Thus, my toes don't just bump into the ends of shoes sometimes, they often actually bump into the side. I have no idea why. I don't know if they've always been like this but I failed to realize it, or if it's a new thing.

...and here is what I have tried thus far:

I have tried orthotics unsuccessfully in the past. I paid tons of money, had them custom fit, and the resulting inserts were so uncomfortable they were unusable. I also felt like they did not really address my leg length difference (inserts that go inside the shoes probably couldn't do so, because of the limited vertical room), and had too much arch support, making me walk on the outsides of my feet. I am open to trying orthotics again, but if so, I'd like a recommendation of a specific company or doctor who does these, somewhere in the MD/DC/Northern VA area.

On the advice of a podiatrist, I use SuperFeet black inserts. They do make things more comfortable, but obviously they can't address some of the issues I have. Any shoes that I actually currently have don't have enough room vertically to add much more to the inside of the shoe.

I have tried off-the-shelf googaws, such as pads that I add to the inside heel of my right shoe when it is too big. They probably help some but could do better with a more cohesive solution. I'd probably need an entire molded heel back rather than a little pad just at the top of the heel.

Someone told me of a service that you mail your shoes to, and they add material to the *outside* of the shoe to address a leg length difference. I cannot remember what the name was, and for the life of me I can't find such a service.

That's it. I will be ultra grateful if anyone can help.
posted by mysterious_stranger to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh I forgot to add: I also went to a shoe store called If the Shoe Fits which I was told did all sorts of nifty tests including a treadmill test to detect the distribution of weight on the bottom of your feet. They did no such tests and the salesperson didn't seem to know any more than someone in a "regular" shoe store. If someone knows of genuine testing like that, I'd be very interested.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 10:13 PM on January 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you considered buying hiking shoes/boots for the two sneaker needs? My partner wears low-cut hiking shoes as his everyday sneakers, and it doesn't look too much different from your typical athletic sneaker. I have found the REI salespeople in the shoe department to be very well-trained and knowledgeable about the fits of the different brands and styles that they stock. I recently bought a pair of Asolo hiking boots with ankle support which are almost as light as sneakers; I have really narrow heels and medium-width forefoot, so you might want to try Vasque which runs narrow throughout (too narrow for me, even in the size up from my street shoe size) or whatever else the REI people recommend. Many hiking shoes also have removable insoles if you want to substitute Superfeet insoles or custom orthotics.

You might also try writing to the author of the Barking Dog Shoes blog; she often posts in response to reader requests for specific foot needs.
posted by serelliya at 12:14 AM on January 4, 2016

Best answer: My right foot is bigger than my left, but sadly my feet are smaller than yours, so we can't set up a shoe exchange :)

I have a leg length difference, and have had plantar fasciitis in the past, so I've had similar issues figuring out shoes. I use Powerstep Pinnacle insoles for arch support (I prefer them to Superfeet), and Clearly Adjustable (cheap) or ViscoPed (expensive, and may be more lift than you need) inserts to make up the leg length difference. The Clearly Adjustable lift feels a bit hard under my heel if used alone, but under the insole it's fine. I buy shoes in wide to give me extra room for the insole and lift. I'm not sure how well either of these lifts work in narrow shoes though. Someone in the comments on amazon had an idea for making the clearly adjustable lift work in their running shoes with a narrow heel cup. Other other adjustable heel lifts look like they might be easier to cut to fit if needed.

I've mostly given up on buying shoes in stores, and shop on Zappos these days. Their search isn't great, when I search for wide shoes, many of the results are not actually wide, so it takes some manual sifting through. But the descriptions or videos usually mention if a shoe has a removable liner, which is good if you're going to add a lift and/or insole. SAS and Clarks have been better than most for buying wide shoes, they might be a good start for in person shopping for narrow shoes.

To address the shoe size difference, I always buy shoes that adjust (laces or straps) so I can tighten the shoe on the other foot more for a better fit. It doesn't bother me that much, but if you need additional adjustment, a heel pad on the small foot's shoe might help it fit better.

Most cobblers can add an external lift to your shoes, but it can be expensive (I think it was $80 last time I did it, though I live in an expensive area). I haven't tried it, but my podiatrist mentioned if I sent off my shoes to a particular place to get it done, it would be covered by my insurance, but it would take weeks to get them back. You could ask your podiatrist if they know of any similar services local to you.

Good luck finding something that works for you.
posted by loop at 2:33 AM on January 4, 2016

Best answer: Hi! I feel your pain. I (a woman) wear a men's 10 EEEE sneaker. No, that's not a typo. A few years ago I finally, for the first time, found sneakers that fit/are comfortable by going to a store called Foot Solutions. I'm sure that not every salesperson knows their stuff as well as my salesperson did, but it might be worth a shot. FWIW, the salesman did no tests and used no machines - he was kind of like the magical bra fit lady who checks you out and announces your size, it was amazing. I did a quick look and it looks like they do have at least one store in MD.

If Foot Solutions doesn't work out, look for shoe stores in neighborhoods that skew older. They tend to have more 'comfort shoes', 'therapeutic shoes' types of places. Also, if the shoe doesn't feel comfortable just don't buy it. I know, when you're in the misery of trying on 10,000 shoes that you just want to buy one damn pair and be done, but you'll regret it later. Seriously, I feel you, shoes shouldn't be this hard.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 4:15 AM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding Zappos-- if you wear a narrow or wide length, it's practically your only option.

Adhesive foam tape saved my feet, re: rubbing. It's kind of a pain to wrap my heels and toes that rub, but I love not being in pain from cracks and blisters. If you have some known spots of wear, go for it.

There is a National Odd Shoe League that will let you trade shoes for free, but I don't know how well it works.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:25 AM on January 4, 2016

Best answer: You are looking for a certified pedorthist. I agree that you should look for a store that skews older; in my town, we have a very nice store that just happens to be old-school, but they also (particularly after their recent remodeling) sell a lot of European comfort brands like Birkenstock, Dansko, etc. so they don't have just old-lady shoes.

According to the Googles, you should try Richey & Co. in your area. If they don't work, come visit Morgan's Shoes in beautiful Wisconsin to get fitted for something that works, and THEN you can go to a cobbler/buy from Zappos/whatever.

I would think that a good pedorthist or orthopedist could tell you where to get a bit added onto the soles of your shoes, not the inside. It's pretty easy with shoes that don't have a separate heel (and are otherwise styled in a way that makes this possible); it goes between the outsole and the body of the shoe itself. Shoes that have replaceable soles like Vibram will work.

Re: size difference, I always thought you could just put a full or 3/4 insole or heel pad into a shoe and it would be great, but one of the pedorthists at the previously mentioned store told me the trick was to put a pad under just the forefoot. It'll slide your foot back while giving you the full support you need at the ankle, etc.

I feel your pain. I have a ridiculous bra size and it took me forever to find things that worked, much less be able to buy something locally or without a week's lead time. Good luck!
posted by St. Hubbins at 7:51 AM on January 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

« Older What's worth watching these days?   |   Anxiety about the unknown Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.