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These boots are made for walking

These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, Aren’t They?

A Barbie doll’s feet are made for female fashion footwear. Ironically, the human foot is not. Yet, in spite of the foot and back problems that plague many women, it remains difficult to find cute, comfortable shoes. And when you have Rheumatoid Arthritis, it can be nearly impossible.

Shoe shopping and RA

I have long hated shoe shopping for this reason. High heels, and even not-so-high heels, put too much pressure on my toe joints and make my knees hurt. Most of the adorable flats and ballet-style slippers I admire on other ladies have little to no support, leading to achy knees and hips. While I’m far from a fashionista, I’m still not ready to resign myself to the orthopedic shoes my grandmother favors. So finding an attractive pair of shoes that remain comfortable throughout the day has become my personal holy grail.

The unbearable foot pain

When I was younger, footwear had not yet become the bane of my walking existence that it is today. I always had to put comfort before fashion (or pay the price for an evening spent in heels), but it wasn’t until a few years ago that my toes became really painful. They are incredibly sensitive, and respond to mild pressure with shooting pain. What should be a minor toe-stubbing is instead excruciating, and when my small children stand on my toes, either accidentally or in play, it can bring me to tears.

At some point after this developed, I discovered negative-heel shoes, meaning that the heel is actually slightly lower than the toes. They took a little getting used to (I actually had sore hamstrings the first few days I wore them), but I found they relieved a lot of the pressure from my toes, and were far more comfortable than anything else in my closet. They’re a little bulky, but some of them are pretty cute, actually meriting compliments from others from time to time. Negative-heel shoes made such a difference that I invested in about ten different pairs to coordinate with various colors of winter and summer wear, and I was happy enough when it came to footwear.

Then came pregnancy. As happens with many women, my feet seemed to grow along with my belly. Obviously my feet weren’t actually growing, but my shoe size was. A woman’s body releases hormones that loosen ligaments to facilitate childbirth, and this process can also loosen the ligaments in one’s feet. In addition, the extra weight carried during pregnancy can flatten one’s arches. So while a pregnant woman’s feet may not actually “grow,” they may indeed take up more surface area and require larger shoes.

The shoe search

This was the case for me. During my third trimester I found that hardly any of my shoes remained comfortable. Unfortunately, my feet never did return to what had been a very reliable size 9. In addition, I developed bunions. While shoes that are too tight are never comfortable, if they are pushing against swollen joints shoes can become downright painful.

This is when my search for the “good enough” shoe took on the proportions of a personal quest. While the length of my foot remains a size 9, the width and height of a 9 rarely accommodates my swollen toe joints. Going up a size doesn’t help, as my foot is then sliding inside the shoe, causing my toes to instinctively grip, which ends up causing pain. I have one pair of shoes that is nearly perfect in terms of fit and comfort, but they are far too casual for dressy pants and too rugged to match with skirts and dresses. I often alternate shoes, as one pair may feel good on my toes yet leads to pain in my knees, and another pair may be great for my knees but leaves my hips aching. Therefore I’ll rotate my almost-perfect-but-too-casual shoes with a good-toe shoe, a good-knee shoe, and a good-hip shoe so that no set of joints becomes too inflamed from consecutive days of shoe-induced discomfort.

And so my search continues. Even in the age of online shopping with free delivery and free returns I have a difficult time. I don’t know how many times I’ve ordered 10 different pairs at once, thinking that surely at least one of them will work, yet upon trying them on I find that I have to send back every pair. While shoe concerns may seem superficial, our feet are the foundation of our bodies, and when the foundation is off, everything else can follow suit.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • tselph
    3 years ago

    I have some great Ariat boots my husband bought me for Christmas that I’ve only worn once because they hurt my toes & instep so bad. I wish they were softer & more comfortable to wear. Same with some of my other “cute” shoes. So sad that I can’t wear them right now. Maybe there’s hope?

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Yes, we can always hope! Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  • Lily
    5 years ago

    I have had this love-hate relationship with shoes since I was a kid. I was born with severe clubfoot and I had cast on until I was three years old. After that, I started wearing orthopedic shoes until I was eleven and I refused to wear them anymore because I felt embarrased. For quite some years I used all kinds of shoes pretending that I had normal feet. Now that I’m almost 50, after three surgeries, and after having tried all the brands on the market, I can only wear MBT. They are very expensive but I have found the wonders of EBay and I’ve been buying it from them. Usually people with normal feet buy them and don’t like them so I take advantage on that.
    It’s been very hard for me to accept that I have to wear this not-so-pretty-chunky shoes for the rest of my life but I do not have a choice. I am grateful that I can still walk on my own.

  • Norreen Clark
    5 years ago

    I have fallen arches with my rheumatoid arthritis and noglers on my toes and bottom of my feet. So I hear you. I wear New Balance sneakers. There wide and about $100.00 every 3-4 months. I have to wear inserts for my flat feet also. It is the only thing I can wear on my feet. Winter,it is costly cause the only boot wide enough and fits are the UGS. good luck

  • Cheryl
    5 years ago

    I also have started wearing Crocs exclusively. I do find however I have to have my feet pretty padded (two pair of socks) if they rub the shoes or move in them it hurts terribly! I have a good size bunion and two more developing. Even with crocs, I do have a lot of problems walking. I wore croc boots on a hike the other day, was told by the leader that they weren’t very suitable and I should get hiking boots 🙂 I just laughed and said well that would be nice but I wouldn’t be able to walk in them. So I guess walking is limited to short distances even with crocs. Still searching for the perfect shoe!

  • Bonnie Rourke
    5 years ago

    I had trouble finding comfortable shoes too. I have a wide foot and a high arch. I went from flats to athletic shoes and was still suffering. I got a pair of Crocs and would wear them at work if my feet started to hurt, then I thought “why wait until I am in pain?” I have been wearing Crocs exclusively ever since. I have no more foot pain and my bunions have gone away. People make fun of them, but I refuse to sacrifice comfort for vanity.

  • Debbie Dyer
    5 years ago

    I totally agree with everything you had to say. There is one issue that you didn’t touch on: that of having very narrow feet. Most of my life I have had a problem finding a triple A width. If you can find a pair, the cost is exorbitant! I have to order several pair at a time on-line and usually send most, if not all, back. Now that I have bunions and bunionetts, the heel size is AAA and the toe end is a AA. If any of you have this problem, I would greatly appreciate information about where to find a reasonably priced, comfortable, and fashionable shoe.

  • Karen
    5 years ago

    My personal favourites are the Merrell barefoot style sneakers. It’s almost impossible to find comfortable shoes that look stylish for work. I look in my wardrobe at high heels from more carefree days and they look like torture devices. Time to take them out to the bin I think!

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