Get the Full Story: Are Your Shoes Responsible for Your Heel Pain?

Occam’s razor—a fairly useful tool for ascertaining truth; not an instrument for shaving legs states that simpler solutions are more likely to be correct than complex ones.

For example, it’s entirely possible that the family dog consumed your son’s math homework, but this stipulates that Fido was both motivated and able to get up on the desk, elected not to eat anything else, and went to town on the assignment that your child spent an hour groaning about having to do. (…Wait, do kids still have homework a dog can eat)

More likely, your child decided to play video games instead of minding his studies.

Simple Logic and Heel Pain

We can apply Occam’s razor in a variety of different contexts—including when you’re trying to figure out why you’ve developed chronic, nagging heel pain.

Heel pain is very common. If you suffer from this condition, you will probably find this page quite helpful.

Sometimes, people deduce that the source of their heel pain is their shoes, but does this really hold up?

Most heel pain is a matter of an injured soft tissue, particularly the plantar fascia and/or Achilles tendon (both of which connect to the heel bone). Pain can develop when an affected tissue is too tight and begins to tear from excessive strain.

Taking that into consideration, it’s possible—as with the homework-craving canine theory—footwear is to blame, but this also means we must make the situation more complicated by adding assumptions.

Most likely, the issue comes down to soft tissue contracture over time, — lack of stretching with tremendous amounts of physical exertion.

And that means shoes are rarely the root cause of heel pain—but they can certainly accentuate an existing problem.

(On a related note, this also means it’s important that you don’t expect miracles when you switch footwear in hopes of finding relief!)

An exception to this rule:

Since we’re talking about footwear and heel pain, we would be remiss not to mention every podiatrist’s favorite subject: flip-flops!

If you don’t want to potentially develop problems due to these flimsy sandals, then limit wearing them to only 20-30 steps at a time.

Essentially, they are great for the beach and showers— not walking around town.

Footwear Fads Aren’t Worth Buying Into

Shoes, especially running shoes, tend to be more about trends than helping your foot work better. A great example of this are the knit/cloth shoes that are so popular right now. Yes, they are certainly comfy, but they don’t protect you from bad biomechanics while walking.

When we talk about popular footwear, you can think of all those fad diets that have come and gone. They’re quite fashionable now, but will you even remember them in 10 years?

If you want to see this in action, consider how shoes that were popular just 3-5 years ago have either started to disappear or are completely gone. These include “toe/minimalist shoes” and footwear with really thick rocker soles (the ones that are supposed to make your butt look better … somehow?).

Actually, the shoe manufacturer Skechers had to pay $40 million back in 2012 to settle charges from the FTC over false advertising for what they labeled as “toning shoes.”

To varying degrees, we’re all a little susceptible to creative marketing. After all, if it didn’t work, there wouldn’t be advertising and marketing agencies, right?

Buying the Latest and Greatest Running Shoes: Not Always Worth It!

Well, here’s one group that seem to be particularly vulnerable to trends and marketing:


Whether you run on a regular basis, something to keep in mind is that if the technology behind running shoes is so awesome and provides countless benefits, the shoes would never change!

At the end of the day, shoe manufacturers are in business and must turn a profit. They need to sell their products—which means two different things: 1) they will continue to come up with new gimmicks and technological ideas so consumers are enticed to buy the products and 2) they will stop producing great shoes if they don’t sell.

Without naming names, one of the major shoe companies should really change their slogan to “Just Buy It.”

This is all quite reminiscent of the great cola wars of the ‘70s and ‘80s. If you don’t remember how that turned out, Google “New Coke.” (The second result should be an article from Time magazine called “Top 10 Bad Beverage Ideas.”)

When Form Meets Function

Because many of the updates for footwear tend to be superficial or superfluous, athletic shoes are often worn as fashion statements.

That’s cool. (Literally.)

If you aren’t logging miles every day in shoes that are more “form than function,” it’s probably going to be just fine.

In fact, sometimes a fun pair of athletic footwear is better than cramming your feet into a pair of more dressy footwear, such as stylish stilettos—just ask Hollywood actress Cybill Shepherd (the next time you see her…).

In 1985, Ms. Shepherd attended the Emmy Awards celebration wearing a sophisticated black gown, coordinating black opera sleeves, and … salmon-colored Reebok high-tops??

Yep, you bet she did!

A few months after the fact, she was quoted as saying “Heels are a form of bondage; I won’t ruin my feet.”

Over thirty years later, celebrities have followed Cybill’s lead and opted for more comfortable footwear when they spend their time on the red carpet.

Knowing When to Replace Your Shoes or Give Them Up

Do you have some shoes they stopped making that are still in good shape? We collect slightly/gently used shoes and take them to the shelter!

And if you happen to have any spare or gently used athletic shoes, we also collect and donate them to the Indy Police Athletic League (PAL).

Have shoes to donate? Find directions to our office on this page!

What constitutes “gently used”? Well, that’s a good question. The (possibly frustrating) answer is that it really depends.

Something you might want to keep in mind when it comes to running shoes specifically is this:

The EVA cushioning used in many kinds of running shoes typically has a lifespan of around 300-500 miles.

Even if the exterior condition of your shoes is still pretty decent, you still should use mileage as a guideline for knowing when to pick up a new pair. (See folks, inner beauty is what’s important!)

When More Cushioning Isn’t All That

So the bells and whistles aren’t particularly important, which probably makes a lot of sense.

Here’s something a bit more surprising:

Softer shoes generally only make biomechanical problems worse.

Sure, it’s reasonable for most people to think you want to have a lot of cushioning in your running shoes, but consider a car that has very soft shocks—it’s going to bottom out when you’re driving!

If you have plantar fasciitis, you want the sharp, intense pain to go away, so you might think you’d find relief with extra cushioning underneath the heel. Walking on something softer, like a pillow—which obviously offers a tremendous amount of cushioning—will make the situation worse.

Plantar fasciitis is the leading cause of heel pain for adults!

And the arch-supporting part of the shoe doesn’t actually do much either. Now, some people think they do for an understandable reason:

Our natural foot arches play a role in—and are affected by—pronation. If you are unfamiliar with this particular term, it refers to a completely normal biomechanical process wherein our feet typically rolls inwards (approximately 4 degrees) during the ground contact portion of each step.

When humans have a good arch structure, there isn’t need for additional support. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people do not have a good arch.

Okay, So What Does Matter for Footwear?

There is a strong correlation between excessive pronation— which tends to be common for those who have low arches—and heel pain, so why wouldn’t the bulky arch part of the shoe be the most important?

Well, this comes down to the fact that the arch is soft muscle. Pushing up on a muscle is like pushing on a marshmallow; it squishes but doesn’t move anything. The heel counter plays a much bigger role in foot motion.

Basically, when you control the heel from tilting, you can control where the foot goes—and the heel counter is the keystone in this process.  The heel counter should keep the heel from tilting and keep every step 2-4x the body weight from side to side.

Okay, so how do you know if a heel counter is any good?

Same way you know if a package of toilet paper is—you squeeze it! Remember Mr. Whipple…you want the opposite.

You’re looking for a solid component that will not move. If there’s any “give,” find another pair. (This helps highlight the point that it’s better to buy shoes at “brick and mortar” stores, where you can play Mr. Whipple, instead of online.)

If Not Shoes, Then What Helps?

Now, if your feet function normally—no over- or under-pronation—you A) are in the minority and B) can wear pretty much whatever you want.

The fact is that most people do have biomechanical issues (of varying degrees).

The good news here is that we can address those biomechanical issues!

If you’re a patient or an avid reader of our blog and website, you know that we have two general ways of doing that: by using either internal correction or external prevention.

Internal correction is pretty straightforward. In this instance, we’re talking about surgery – changing the bone and soft tissue.

Fortunately, this is typically quite rare and, in those cases when it’s the recommended option, we have an outstanding track record of performing effective procedures.

Of course, the preferred option for everyone involved is to treat the issue through conservative methods.

Two nonsurgical treatments that tend to be rather effective include stretching and orthotic therapy.

Because humans wear shoes, our calf muscle/Achilles tendon complex can become shortened (in comparison to what it should be). Accordingly, the best practice is to stretch regularly to keep the tissues limber ESPECIALLY if you wear high heels on a frequent basis.

Orthotics are an outstanding choice when it comes to conservative treatment for heel pain.

Learn more about orthotics here!

Now That You Know There’s Help, Have Us Eliminate Your Heel Pain!

Stretches, shoes, and custom orthotics are great for treating many cases of heel pain—but it’s best to think of these as components of an effective treatment plan, and not the entire story.

Given that our feet (and gait patterns) are all unique, we customize every treatment plan to identify solutions that will actually work for you—not just what works for your neighbor!

For more information, or to request an appointment, give us a call at (317) 545-0505. Our team will be more than happy to answer your questions or assist you in setting up an office visit!



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Indianapolis, IN 46216

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