top of page
  • Writer's pictureBalmain Physiotherapy

The Right Shoe Size for Every Stage of Life

a rack of shoes

Wearing correctly fitting footwear stands as a fundamental pillar in maintaining optimal foot health. As podiatrists we continually emphasise the importance of finding your correct shoe ‘support’ style and sizing at different life stages. From school-age children to our ageing population, having the right fit for your feet is crucial. By ensuring your shoes are the right fit, you can prevent an array of foot complaints that can significantly impact your quality of life.

Finding the Right Size

Many of us will remember being fitted to our first shoes by a store clerk with a small metal platform covered in sliding knobs.This is the Brannock device, an excellent tool that is unfortunately becoming extinct in the world of retail.

Brannock foot measurement device

Our shoe size goes well beyond the length of the shoe. In particular, the Brannock device also checks your ‘heel to ball length’, a crucial measurement in those of us with slightly longer or shorter toes than the norm. If the ‘heel to ball length is off, then the shoe’s widest point, which is also where it is meant to bend when we go onto the ball of our feet, will be in the wrong spot.

This can lead to the following issues over time:

  • Pain under the ball of the foot

  • Pinching of the toes or ball of the foot, crushing the delicate structures involved.

  • Pinched nerves, causing numbness, tingling or shooting pain

  • Arch pain, from the foot leveraging over an incorrect platform.

  • Abnormal calluses or corns

  • Ingrown nails from the toe skin being pushed into the nail

Foot width is an important measurement which has seemingly become almost standardised as the shoe industry must keep up with the demands of high production amounts. Most Australian shoes now come in a range mostly sitting around a ‘C fitting’, varying between brands according to what ‘shoe-last’ foot model they are being created off. If you find a brand that always seems to fit comfortably for your foot, the reason may be that your foot is similar to this model they work off.

Those of us needing wider fittings may need to seek out particular shoe brands that accommodate different width fittings, such as running shoe brand New Balance, or women's shoe brand Ziera. Those of us requiring a narrower shoe fitting have a harder job ahead of us. As a loose shoe can cause a range of changes in the way that we walk, and can increase chances of injury. Narrower fittings also don’t tend to be advertised, as they are a rarer issue for the general public. Narrower casual runner brands may include Converse or Lacoste. Otherwise a range of narrower women's shoe brands may be fitted in specialty stores such as Peter Sheppard or Frankie4.

Lastly, the ‘toe box’ and ‘heel cup’ in a shoe varies in shapes and sizes according to style and brand. A flat and wide toe box, or a deep and wide heel cup  may be touted as the best on a bigger=better philosophy, but may be really uncomfortable on some, and even a trip hazard on those with narrow feet or pointed toes. Have a look at the line formed by your toes when standing, that may help you in finding what toe box shape works best for you. If the heel of a shoe is pushing the tendon on the back of your heel (achilles), or rubbing your ankle bones on the sides, the heel cup may be too big. 

Foot size shape chart

Fittings for Different Times in Our Lives

Throughout our life spans, you may already be noticing a change in what feels comfortable in your day to day activities. What may feel comfortable for you now, would be the same shoe you would be dying to take off halfway through a day out and about later in life. 

Here are some of the requirements we recommend when choosing a shoe style and fit.

School Age

  • The tried and true finger width trick, with your child standing in the shoes, make sure you can still feel a thumb width of space at the end of the shoe.

  • If the shoe is too firm try taking out the insole and have your child stand on it, is the foot sitting within the boundaries of the insole, or are toes falling off the sides?

  • If you are buying shoes for a child as a present, or still unsure on sizing, draw an outline of their feet, and cut it out. A free outline of a foot will give a greater feel for the true size needs of their feet, than whether they ‘don’t feel tight’ in the store.

  • That being said, too much room is a bad thing, save the older siblings hand me downs until there is under 1.5 cm’s of extra room at the end, and the ball of the foot is in the right spot.

  • Childrens shoes must always have adequate ‘fixation’, whether that's a velcro strap, laces or a strap around the heel of their Birkenstocks. If they don’t need to use their hands to put on the shoes, their feet will start gripping the shoes for them, causing a myriad of obstacles for your child's development.

foot outline

Working age:

  • By now some of our family's “weird foot things” may be starting to rear their heads, such as bunions or high insteps. Be sure to check in the store that there aren't any seam lines or design features that may be pushing or rubbing along these problem areas.

  • Job specific designs may be problematic according to your feet and their specific size and requirements. For example, if you have very mobile and flat feet, but must represent the company in heeled ‘court’ style shoes, it may be advantageous to seek assistance in choosing an appropriate shoe, with modified internal padding, to help prevent discomfort or injury.

  • For those of us working from home, be aware that your feet may need some support for long periods of time bare feet around any hard floor surfaces at home. Going shoe free and aux naturelle can be great for short periods of time, but we must be aware of the effects of repetitive tasks and hard modern surfaces that are doing anything but providing a natural environment for them.

a lady walking in heels

Retirement Age:

  • As we age, the fatty protective tissue under our feet gradually becomes thinner and displaced. Our elder population prefers a bit of cushioning under their feet for a reason, try giving a thicker foam sole or cushioned inner sole a try, you may feel some of the regular aches and pains drift away.

  • This thinning effect also includes the skin, making us more prone to callus and corns. Be sure to be wearing shoes that have adequate room around the toes without being too big. This may mean paying extra attention to finding shoes that follow the same shape as your toes make, such as straight across or an arched point around a longer 2nd toe.

  • Adequate fixation is now of great importance again. As we age, we tend to struggle more with balance, and may begin to form more of a shuffle walk. Having slip on shoes, open ballet flats or loose fitting shoes to allow easier access will significantly increase the chance of a big fall.

  • More time around the house may come with the temptation to wear slippers more often, supportive slippers with velcro closures are an excellent investment in maintaining comfort, reducing risks, and keeping people mobile for longer. 

shoe diagram

In our elderly population, the relationship between proper shoe sizing and foot health becomes even more paramount. Ageing brings about natural changes in foot structure, including diminished arch support, decreased skin elasticity, and alterations in biomechanics. Ill-fitted shoes can exacerbate these age-related foot problems, potentially leading to increased discomfort, decreased mobility, and a heightened risk of falls. We advocate for the incorporation of routine evaluations and adjustments to shoe size as a preventive measure for seniors, ensuring that footwear evolves with the changing needs of ageing feet. The collaborative efforts of healthcare providers and individuals in embracing this proactive approach can empower seniors to navigate the ageing process with confidence, comfort, and reduced vulnerability to common foot complaints associated with age.

In essence, the alignment of footwear with individual foot dynamics emerges as a cornerstone of preventive foot care. Through understanding the intricacies of foot complaints and the relationship between ill-suited shoes and podiatric health, individuals can embark on a journey of self-care that prioritises the often-overlooked foundation upon which they stand.

If you find yourself questioning the fit of your shoes or experiencing discomfort, don't hesitate to take the first step towards better foot health. Book a consultation today with one our experienced and dedicated podiatrists at Sydney Allied Health Group.


bottom of page