Most people know the 1966 song, “These Boots are Made for Walkin.’” But talk to podiatrists, and you’ll wonder just how good those boots really were.

Arch support? Strong counter? Any shock absorption at all? Highly doubtful.

“I don’t know if it’s the design of the shoe or the demand of the public, but we tend to have shoes that look more sleek and fashionable and perhaps aren’t nearly as supportive structurally for our feet,” said Dr. Zachary Ritter, of UPMC Podiatry in North Central Pa. “Most people, when they go to look for shoes they just look for, ‘Well, what do I like the best?’ and that’s not necessarily the best for you.”

Dr. Kathya Zinszer, of Geisinger Elysburg Podiatry, recommends that feet be professionally measured at least every other year. While acknowledging the difficulty in finding stores that do that, she said it does help to know the appropriate length and width of feet.

Along with that, shoes should feel comfortable from the start.

“If a shoe doesn’t fit well when you are in a shoe store, and somebody says, ‘Oh those shoes might feel tight but they’re going to stretch,’ that’s not true,” Zinszer said. “They really should feel comfortable on instant application and walking.”

Try on shoes toward the end of the day as opposed to first thing in the morning, she said.

“And then when you come home, I tell my patients to wear a shoe for a half-hour to 45 minutes with just regular activity before you even wear them out on the street,” she said.

That timespan is usually enough to show how well the shoes fit. People can then search their feet for redness or irritation from shoes that are too tight, or friction and blisters from too-big shoes that flop around.

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years, and patients will say, ‘Gosh, those shoes that felt a little bit tight at the store, when I wore them for a half-hour, I was really in trouble,’” she said.

For people with foot problems, shoes should be tailored to their arches and provide shock absorption, said Dr. David Holman, of Mifflinburg. and the counter, that hard plastic shell around the heel, is one of the most important parts of the shoe, he said, demonstrating how a sturdy heel keeps the foot from leaning too far inward and flattening.

“If they’re very poorly fitted shoes, you won’t be able to wear them for long,” he said. “They will hurt you. You’ll have to get rid of them.”

Inserts or orthotics can help with problems like flat feet, said Dr. Gerard Cush, of SUN Orthopaedics of Evangelical, but they do take some experimentation.

“Inserts are made in different ways to help support the arch,” he said. “One insert may be very good for one person but may not help another person. So unfortunately there is some trial and error to see which one’s going to work the best.”

He recommends over-the-counter inserts first, because they’re readily available and cheaper than custom inserts.

“Trying an over-the-counter insert for flat feet in conjunction with stretching are two of the common things I start with that people can do on their own,” he said.

Patients often tell Zinszer they’ve been a 7 1/2 since high school. But different brands have different shoe sizes, so fit matters more than size.

“Don’t rely on your shoe size that you’ve had forever. Make sure that you’re looking at how the fit is,” she said.

In many people, one foot is a little larger than the other, so they should measure for the larger one.

“You can always wear a padded sock on the smaller side,” Zinszer said. “If you are a wider width, make sure you’re looking at the shape of the shoe so that it correlates with your forefoot width.”

She also tells patients to use arch supports in shoes with memory foam.

“I think the worst thing that entered the shoe market is memory foam,” she said. “It holds no arch support. It feels like a cloud when you put it on in the store, and then all of a sudden you realize, ‘Wow, my back is hurting. My knees.’ Because you’re stepping flat and everything really compresses.”

Wearing supportive shoes pays off, Ritter said.

“It’s important to choose good shoes,” he said. “It’s something you wear frequently, so don’t be afraid to spend a little more money on them. and once they’ve reached their lifespan, it’s important to get another pair and prevent some of the problems that can be caused by wearing broken down, beaten shoes.”

Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Email comments to her at

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