Do I need a podiatrist, or just a good shoe store?
July 16, 2007 9:18 AM   Subscribe

Do I need a podiatrist, or just a good shoe store?

Until about 6 months ago, I had worn the same pair of shoes for 2 years - not because I'm cheap, but because I'm one of those guys who *HATES* shopping. Finally, those shoes began to degrade beyond the point of usability, so after 3 successive re-heelings, I decided to get new shoes.

Since then, I have been unable to find a pair that fits well. I finally bought a pair about a month and a half ago before going on a long, sightseeing-oriented vacation. BIG mistake. I got these weird, awful blisters that led to even weirder callouses. It hurts my feet when I walk for long distances. Even worse, the "pinky toes" on both feet look kind of weird. Part of my pinky toe sort of seems to curve under my 4th toe a bit. In fact, I have (on both feet) a weird callous on the bottom of my pinky toe, close to where it rubs the 4th toe. My pinky toes may have been like this for a while, but it hasn't been a problem until recently.

So, bottom line, I need to find out what the deal is with my feet, and I need to get a new pair of shoes. What do I do? I'm pretty sure that my feet are different sizes, although I'm unsure how different they are from each other. Also, buying shoes is difficult since every brand has their own "cut," making sizing difficult. Do I need to see a podiatrist? Or will a good shoe store do? If a good shoe store will do, then can you recommend any in the NYC area? I like shoes like Timberlands and Rockports that look kind of dressy, but are actually pretty strong, and are sturdy enough for everyday use. I don't mind spending the money on a good pair, since I plan on keeping it for a while.
posted by Afroblanco to Health & Fitness (19 answers total)
Response by poster: (If necessary, I can post pictures of my sad, ugly feet, but I figured I'd spare you guys that fate unless it would be really helpful)
posted by Afroblanco at 9:21 AM on July 16, 2007

What kind of shoes did you have the first time (with all the re-heelings)?

I have a pair of Ecco Seawalkers, which are dressy but comfortable. I don't know about 'sturdy' -- I've worn mine every day for some time and they've held up quite well. You can get them resoled/restored if you need to. They're a bit pricey...
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:37 AM on July 16, 2007

I wear Rockport exclusively for everyday wear. Like them very much.

I had a plantar wart on the ball of my foot. My doctor sent me to a "old-time" shoe store for some inserts. The time and effort and foot measuring was impressive. My next Rockports will come from there. I have never had any luck with the shoe chain stores. The sales people there seem to know less about shoes than I do. heheh.
posted by JayRwv at 9:57 AM on July 16, 2007

On preview - oops.. Yes you need to see a podiatrist and go from there.
posted by JayRwv at 9:58 AM on July 16, 2007

A good shoe store is definitely the place to start. Pay particular attention to the width of the shoe - this should help with your pinky toe problem. I also strongly recommend going with an orthodic footbed - cork is the best material for this. You have to be careful with cork footbeds at the beginning - they take time to break in and form to the shape of your foot - but once you've gotten past the first two weeks or so it's like you've got a custom formed shoe. If you've got a mid-width foot you should check out Naots. They make sandals and snazzier shoes. They're pricey - at least $100, but many styles are resolable, and some have replacable footbeds. If you have wide feet you may be into Birkenstock territory, and that is where I tag out and let the hippies take over.

If a good orthodic footbed doesn't solve your problem you will at least be saving the podiatrist the step of recommending them to you, because that will probably be their first move.

Also, epsom salts? Not just for grandma. Give them a try on tender, blistery days.
posted by asspetunia at 10:06 AM on July 16, 2007

Best answer: You might start by visiting the Allen - Edmonds store in Manhattan. There, they will use a Brannock device to accurately measure both your feet, standing and sitting, which is the necessary first step in properly fitting a shoe. If your feet are within the normal variation of size differences (about 1/2 size difference in length, and up to one U.S. width range), they can probably find a size compromise that will work well for you. Beyond that, you'll either need custom made shoes, or you'll need to buy different size shoes for your different feet.

But the deformations of your toes that you describe are not normal features to be addressed by a shoe fitter. Although IANAD, I'm concerned that if you are experiencing these changes, with what you think is tolerable discomfort, that you may be in the early stages of neuropathy, which is a progressive loss of feeling in the extremities including the feet, that may have other underlying medical causes, such as diabetes. If this is true, you may need the services of special footwear makers who produce shoes for diabetics and other neuropathy sufferers, which aim specifically to be more flexible than standard footwear, and to have fewer seams and minor pressure points than might be found in standard footwear. Shoes like this are not sturdy, but they are intended more for foot protection than for long walks. If you haven't been screened lately for diabetes, you might want to see your general practitioner about that.

Podiatry as a specialty has had something of a checkered history, only becoming a recognized medical specialty in the last 30 years in the U.S. If you decide to consult a podiatrist directly, make sure that the person you consult is a licensed doctor of medicine, and can consider the full range of health conditions that can contribute to your problems, and treat or refer appropriately.
posted by paulsc at 10:09 AM on July 16, 2007

Best answer: The problem with the blisters can even happen with shoes that fit well, if the leather is stiff and hasn't been broken in before a lot of heavy walking. However, the problem with the pinky toes sounds like you had a shoe that wasn't wide enough for your foot (as asspetunia mentioned above).

I think you should start with a good shoe store. There's one on Park Ave S and 32nd Street called Eneslow. They are really good at helping you find a perfect fit. They also do orthotics if you end up needing them (though I don't have any experience with their orthotics, they do make them there).
posted by bedhead at 10:20 AM on July 16, 2007

I'd say you should buy a pair of light, comfy, flexible sneakers to give your feet a break while you figure out what's going on. Those expensive health shoes (like Rockports) don't work for everyone -- for me, they're far too heavy and inflexible. The shoes you end up buying should be immediately comfortable when you put them on in the store -- no breaking in.
posted by footnote at 10:20 AM on July 16, 2007

You need to alternate between several pairs -- at least two, possibly three. They could be the same style, really, but giving the leather time to air out and dry will help them last longer, smell less and stay sturdy -- which, in turn, will be good for your feet.

If you have a New Balance store in your area, they may have this wacky computer machine thingy which will measure where you put the weight on your feet.

If you see little wrinkles on the midsole of your shoe (that's the part between the upper and the sole), you're breaking down the cushioning. That's bad.
posted by Madamina at 12:05 PM on July 16, 2007

The most knowledgable person who ever sold me shoes was at the REI in Seattle. I don't know if there are REI's in NYC, but if there is, go there and say you need a walking shoe and tell them your story.

I would start with one of the "good" shoe stores suggested here and see if that solves your problem. There are several insert-based technologies that may solve your problem as well, but you may need to get shoes a size bigger.

If the shoe route fails, then you should escalate.

Personally, I recommend Clarks... I had a very comfy pair that I got from them. I also recommend Bontoni, as that's the most comfortable shoe I've ever tried on, but they're very expensive.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:54 PM on July 16, 2007

Oh, hey, seconding jeffamaphone on the Clarks. I've never worn them myself, but having witnessed a great many weepy cobblershop testimonials I feel confident that those are some nice shoes.

And don't buy shoes from anybody too snooty to sit right down on the floor with your sad, ugly feet and make sure those suckers fit. And don't you be self-conscious about it, either. Try on 50 pairs, if need be. Bad shoes can throw your whole body out of whack. You want to stay in whack, right? Good luck.
posted by asspetunia at 2:05 PM on July 16, 2007

Yeah, clarks are good. Also, zappos is your friend if you hate shoe shopping! Unlimted free returns. These ones are rather fetching.
posted by footnote at 2:10 PM on July 16, 2007

I had problems, saw my podiatrist, and have no regrets. The problem with not seeing a doc is you may spend even more time and money on cheap but wrong solutions than you would just getting the right solution from a profesional.

Also I'd suggest checking out Keen shoes as another comfy brand. All the above ones are good but Keen is another option if you can't find one of those that fit well.

And it's always a good idea to travel with a little moleskin if you plan on doing a lot of walking. The stuff is a life saver.
posted by chairface at 2:45 PM on July 16, 2007

In my experience a really good shoe store will tell you how much they can help and if you should see a podiatrist. Sometimes they have a podiatrist come in once a week for free consultations. They will also measure your feet, do gait analysis, see how you stand, discuss your usage needs and give you a months free trial on your new shoes (seriously, I've been to several chains in NZ that do all this).

Alternately, a podiatrist should recommend a good shoe store as part of the consultation and possibly give you a written 'prescription' to take along to help the store fit you with appropriate shoes.
posted by shelleycat at 2:48 PM on July 16, 2007

See a podiatrist, and stop by Eneslow.
posted by jennyjenny at 3:00 PM on July 16, 2007

Best answer: "Even worse, the "pinky toes" on both feet look kind of weird. Part of my pinky toe sort of seems to curve under my 4th toe a bit. In fact, I have (on both feet) a weird callous on the bottom of my pinky toe, close to where it rubs the 4th toe. My pinky toes may have been like this for a while, but it hasn't been a problem until recently."

My pinky toes have been like this since the 7th grade, perhaps earlier. They are twisted inward so dramatically that when walking barefoot, it's actually the side of the toe that comes in contact with the ground, rather than the bottom. However, I don't have a callous where the pinky toes would rub against the fourth toes, so my bet would be that your current shoes are forcing your toes into some strange position and causing them to rub, but you probably already knew that.

The only time my weird pinky toes cause a problem by rubbing on the fourth toes is when I wear something like a climbing shoe, a shoe that laces further down towards the toes than a normal shoe, or a pointy toed shoe. These kind of shoes force the toes together and make them rub on each other.

Right now I regularly wear a pair of Timberlands, in the past, I've had luck with Eccos. In fact, if I could afford it, I'd have another pair of Eccos right now.
posted by 517 at 7:33 PM on July 16, 2007

Sounds like a bunionette. You may need to choose footwear carefully.
posted by namret at 9:33 PM on July 16, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for your help, all.

I'm thinking that the problem with my pinky toes is what 517 is talking about. It wasn't ever a problem until I started wearing these shoes. Certainly the weird callouses are new.

I'm thinking that I will check out one of the shoe stores you guys are recommending.

Still undecided about the podiatrist, but leaning toward "no."
posted by Afroblanco at 10:07 PM on July 16, 2007

If you have a wart, get it treated pronto---I had one in the sole-side joint of my big toe that looked like a blood blister under a callus.
posted by brujita at 10:33 PM on July 16, 2007

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