Whether you’re stuck with narrow, flat feet prone to wallowing in shoes, or a wider foot that overhangs or rubs, many people just aren’t suited to a “standard” shoe.
Once, the only option was cinching in laces extra tight, or jumping up a size to gain extra width, but these days shoe manufacturers are catering for a broader (and narrower!) market.
Many people don’t realise that fitting a shoe to the foot’s width is equally important as its length.
Finding the correct fit width-wise can be tricky. It’s a complex topic, not helped by the fact that there’s a lot of variation in the shoe industry’s narrow/medium/wide classifications.
The width of the foot should be measured across its widest part – usually the ball of the foot (the metatarsal heads).
A narrow shoe is generally classified as an ‘A’ for women and in the ‘A’ – ‘B’ range for men, while a wide shoe is considered ‘E’ plus. Sizes B – D span the spectrum in between. Different shoe manufacturers sometimes further refine their extra wide/narrow definition by adding a number classification as well.
Lots of things affect foot width – the foot’s shape (which often has a genetic component), structural changes (such as bunions, corns, callouses) as well as a person’s other health issues (diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, congenital deformities) just to name a few.
Measuring the foot with a Brannock Device (found in most shoe stores) is a good start point for an accurate fitting. But because the foot is a 3-dimensional structure, and sizes are not always consistent, the best way to fit a shoe is simply to try it on (seems like common sense right?!).
If a shoe is the correct width it encases the foot without any visible bulging/stretching on the lateral (outside) side of the shoe. It shouldn’t pinch or rub on the inside or outside border of the foot either. There shouldn’t be any excess material on top and laces should be firmly, but comfortably tied.
Foot variations and how to look after them
Not sure if you’ve got a wide foot and need a wider shoe? Consider it if there’s blisters/rubbing on the side of the forefoot, the foot over-hangs the edge of the shoe’s platform or there’s reduced circulation to the toes when wearing a regular shoe.
Narrow feet will often slip and slide within a regular shoe, and shoes will have to be laced extra tight to feel secure. If this sounds like you, it’s best to avoid slip-on shoes or sneakers and opt for a narrow-fit laced/buckled/velcro shoe. Inserts may be an option worth trying, along with reinforced laces.
Feet with bunions
Bunions, or hallux valgus as they’re medically known, appear as a bony lump on the side of the big toe (if they are on the side of the little toe they’re known as ‘bunionettes’). They form when the bones making up the big toe joint (metatarsal-phalangeal joint) shift out of alignment due to foot injuries/inflammation, ill-fitting shoes, undue stress (eg ballet) and genetics.
Pressure from this misalignment can act on the other toes causing them to drift across as well.
For bunion sufferers tight or narrow shoes will be particularly painful.
For people with diabetes, correct footwear is imperative. Loss of surface skin, wounds and foot ulcers are a real concern and can have long-standing complications. Shoes must fit well and distribute pressure evenly over the foot. Be especially vigilant if you suffer from diabetic neuropathy which can alter sensation and cause an inability to feel pressure and pain from shoes.
So what are some footwear options?
Many sports shoe brands now offer different width fittings in the same shoe, or shoe models that cater specifically for narrow/wide feet.
New Balance is one of the brands leading the field.
The New Balance 860 V7 is available in 3 widths for both men and women. This model is ideal for realigning overpronation, while the similar New Balance 880 is a more neutral option. Clever design features a mesh upper uninterupted by overlay stitching, which means less irritation/rubbing – ideal for diabetics and the bunion-afflicted.
Asics is another shoe brand recognising the importance and variation in shoe width. The womens’ GT-2000 is worth checking out if you’re needing a narrower fit.
Because width fittings vary between brands online buying can be difficult, so always get measured and fitted in-store. Come and see us at The Athlete’s Foot where we can help find the right shoe to fit your foot – whatever the width.