Many years ago I worked for a sarcastic boss with a wicked sense of humor. He loved to tease, and even when I was the target, I found him funny. Once, noticing that I had small feet, he said it was because “nothing grows in the shade.” Fast forward a few decades and my feet, with no loss of shade, are no longer so small. When I retrieved a pair of seasonal shoes I had put away, I found they didn’t fit. I pulled out some boots from last year, and same thing. Once a size 7, then 7.5, I was an 8 for about a year, and my new shoes are a size 9. What’s happening to my feet?
At midlife, and carrying extra weight, my feet are succumbing to the perils of living. According to the Arthritis Foundation, each foot is made up of 28 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. As this complex structure takes a regular pounding, footpads thin and tendons lose elasticity, which can make feet widen. Stuffed into small shoes, big toes can turn inward toward the other toes, causing the joint to jut out into what’s commonly called a bunion. The arches can “fall.” According to WebMD, when the tendons all pull properly, your foot forms a moderate, normal arch. When tendons do not pull together properly, there is little or no arch. This is called flat feet or fallen arches.
I tested my feet to see if this was the issue I faced. I wet the sole of my foot and stood on a piece of heavy paper. The imprint showed most of my foot; a higher arch would have resulted in a larger dry spot in the middle. So my arches are falling—what now? I don’t experience much foot pain yet, but I put my feet up when I’m sitting. I’ll try to support my feet with insoles and, at this stage, I think generic arch supports will do. I found exercises that I can do while I’m sitting and other tips at EverydayHealth.com.
A study at a veteran’s hospital found that three-quarters of the patients—mostly men—were wearing the wrong size shoe. Other studies suggest that 90 percent of women have at least one pair of shoes that doesn’t fit, perhaps because they’ve chosen style over size.
I’m over that. If style were the only issue, maybe I would suffer through sore feet, but I do care about the health conditions that come into play. An article from the Los Angeles Times said:
“Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis can pester joints and bones of the feet as well, especially in the big toe, already hampered by tendons and ligaments pulling it up. These conditions can cause damage to bones and joints, and thin bones are more prone to stress fractures.”
Still unconvinced you need supportive shoes? Foot pain could change your gait, forcing you to put weight on parts of the foot that throw you off balance. And that leads to falls.
I’d like to blame my growing feet on years of wearing high heels and poorly made footwear, but really I need to look no further than weight and mileage: I’m carrying extra pounds, and life and career have kept me on my feet a great deal.
So now I choose shoes according to fit, not the size that’s written on them. (This is becoming easier since I can’t find or read the number anymore.) I’ve shopped until I found a brand with good arch support, then I bought a style that was comfortable and came in several colors. I’ll have to add more as the seasons and my needs change, but that just gives me an excuse to shop. Wearing shoes that fit makes a world of difference.
Pepper Evans works as an independent-living consultant, helping older adults age in place. She is the empty-nest mother of two adult daughters and has extensive personal and professional experience as a caregiver. She has worked as a researcher and editor for authors and filmmakers. She also puts her time and resources to use in the nonprofit sector and serves on the Board of Education in Lawrence Township, NJ.