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Feet First

Get the perfect fit every time and defeat your body's arch enemy: pain.

Nearly 75 percent of all Americans will suffer foot problems at some point, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. But you might save yourself a lot of pain if you treated yourself to a new pair of shoes. Wearing improperly fitting shoes on a daily basis causes foot problems such as calluses, corns, hammertoes, bunions, and more. Some of these conditions may ultimately require surgery to correct. But bad shoes hurt more than your feet. Millions of Americans have chronic knee pain and back pain because of shoe problems, especially from wearing high heels. It turns out that most high-heeled shoes (including cowboy boots) have pointed or narrow tips that squash toes into an unnatural triangular shape. As the heel gets higher, the pressure placed on the balls of the feet can lead to problems with long-term medical consequences. "The lower the heel, the fewer the problems," explains Mary Ellen Franklin, associate professor of physical therapy at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. But even flat-heeled shoes can cause trouble if you don't buy the right ones or know when to discard your old soles. Some shoe tips to help give pain the boot are listed below.

Finding a Good Shoe Fit

  • Have your feet measured every time you buy shoes, since foot size can change as you get older.
  • Have both feet measured, since one foot is sometimes bigger or smaller than the other.
  • Fit new shoes to the largest foot.
  • Don't wear shoes with high heels, especially at work. If you must, at least choose heels no higher than 21ΒΌ2 inches.
  • Buy shoes in the afternoon or late in the day, since feet swell as the day goes on.
  • Make sure shoes feel good when you put them on. There should be no "break-in period," says Dr. James Thomas, podiatrist and assistant professor of surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
  • Check your shoes for wear and tear. Depending on how often you wear them, you could need new shoes every year or every three months. Place shoes on the floor: If the heels and soles aren't sitting flat on the floor, it's time to go shoe-shopping.

Note: Mary Ellen Franklin, associate professor at the Medical College of Georgia, says most kids outgrow athletic shoes before they wear out. Her rule? "When my son's shoes get really smelly, I know it's time," she says.

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