The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Going Wide: Six Tips for Buying Shoes When You Have Wide Feet

Posted by on Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

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It’s frustrating for anyone to walk into a store and  find out that the pair of shoes you love isn’t available in your size. That’s happened to everyone at least once, I’m sure. For some people, though, that’s more the rule than the exception–welcome to the world of wide feet.

First some facts about wide feet:

  • The average shoe width is a “B,” so size C and D are considered wide shoe sizes; size E and up are considered extra wide.
  • Women are more likely to have wide feet than men. This is because women’s hips are wider, giving their feet a greater tendency to over pronate, or roll inwards. Feet that over pronate are often wider than feet that don’t.
  • People may be born with wide feet, but more often they’re the result of one or more common causes:
    • Aging – Peoples feet widen with age as the ligaments and muscles in their feet stretch and relax.
    • Obesity – Extra weight puts more pressure on those ligaments and muscles, flattening them out.
    • Pregnancy – The extra weight gained rapidly by pregnant women puts a strain on the structure of their feet, causing them to spread. Additionally, their bodies also produce relaxin, a hormone that makes muscles relax, including the muscles in their feet. Some women’s feet return to their original size after they give birth, but many find themselves permanently wearing a larger size (this, by the way, is another reason why women are overall more likely to have flat feet).
    • Excess standing – People who have jobs that require them to be on their feet for long periods of time, year after year, may find that their feet get wider over time. Think nurses, security guards, restaurant industry workers.
    • Bunions – Yes, our old friend the bunion. When your first metatarsal pushes outward, forming a bump below your big toe, your forefoot becomes wider, pushing you into a different size shoe.

Many of these causes are symptoms of modern life, especially aging and obesity, that have led podiatrist Dr. Oliver Zong to speculate that more people than ever are living with wide feet. This is a mixed bag of news–it’s good that people are living longer, for example, but bad that obesity has become so widespread.

Another piece of good news is that as the number of consumers for shoes in wide sizes grows, so do their choices. Shoes in more fashionable styles are now available in a, well, wider range of widths.

With that in mind, here are some tips for shopping for wide shoes:

Have your feet measured in the store Yes, make a salesperson break out the old fashioned Brannock device you remember from kindergarten so you can get an accurate width measurement. Of course every shoe manufacturer’s sizing will be different, but this at least will give you a starting point. If you can’t find a shoe store that will measure your feet professionally (a problem in this era of warehouse stores and chains without trained employees) or if you’re having trouble figuring out what kind of shoes to buy, talk to a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900).

Look for shoes with wide toe boxes Some shoe styles are just naturally a better choice for people with wide feet, namely those with wide toe boxes. Focus on those styles rather than frustrate yourself by trying to find pointy toed shoes in your size, or worse, squeezing your feet into them.

Choose shoes with removable linings or insoles You can create a little more room for your feet by taking these out. If you have orthotics, you would be doing that anyway (and of course, if you have orthotics, always try on shoes with them).

Stay away from slip on shoes These styles allow your feet to slide forward and squash up in the toe box. Even if you find these in the right wide size, you still won’t be doing yourself any favors with them.

Get strap or lace up shoes These shoes are great because you can set them as wide as you want. If the holes on a buckle strap shoe don’t go far enough for you, you can always punch another one or two in to give you more room; you can also buy longer laces. Speaking of laces, Livestrong offers this tip for lacing shoes on wide feet: for the first two-thirds of the lace holes, just run each lace up its own side, as if you were laying down railroad tracks. When you get to the top third, then you can start criss-crossing them the usual way.

Try Wide Size Specialty Stores or Web Sites If you’re frustrated by the sizes in regular shoe stores, look for stores that specialize in wider sizes. There also are web sites that cater to wider feet, offering plenty of styles and sizes. Keep these points in mind if you shop online:  a) make sure you have had your feet professionally measured recently b)  stick with brands that you’ve had success with in the past if possible c) check the return policy.

If you do get stuck with shoes that aren’t wide enough and can’t return them, eHow has an interesting technique for widening shoes. Give it a try–it’s better than tossing the shoes out or worse, squeezing your feet into them.

Wide feet don’t have to doom you to a life of ugly shoes or squashed feet. Follow these tips and you’ll have shoes that make your feet feel happy and look good!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.