How Do I Know What Shoe Fits Best?

Studies by the Pedorthic Footwear Association show that no two pairs of feet, and no individual’s two feet, are exactly alike. Therefore, perfect shoe fit is impossible. As you read this section on the principles of shoe fitting, you will see the complexity of proper fit and why you need to leave the fit of the shoes up to the professionally trained shoe fitter.

Most shoe fitting is done on a two dimensional scale: overall length and ball width. Yet the foot and shoe are three-dimensional objects. Thus, what we have is a shoe of one size, shape, and sectional proportions attempting to fit a foot of many or varying sizes, shapes, and proportions. It is obviously impossible for the shoe to fit and feel the same under all these variables. Now add to these challenges the fit of the foot while in the shoe when at non-weightbearing, weightbearing, walking, under conditions of heat, humidity and moisture, and faulty biomechanics of the leg and foot. As you can see, a perfect fit is next to impossible. Therefore, a professionally trained shoe fitter attempts to fit both feet proportionally. This often requires some adjustments to the shoes to accommodate the intricacies of each foot.

Shoes that fit properly help you do the things you enjoy. They provide comfort and improved performance. They can also keep your feet healthy, which means you can stay as active as you want to be now and in later years. Here are the steps taken at Murray’s Shoes in assuring as proportional a fit as possible. It is important to note before starting that whatever size we end up with does not matter at all. What does matter is the fit.

When checking for fit you must always be standing when performing the fit check!

Length Fit

The first step upon standing is to check the overall length of the shoe in relation to the foot inside. There is no scientific space between end of toe and end of shoe, but the rule of thumb is between 3/8″ and 5/8.” We take into consideration foot expansion upon weight bearing.

Heel to Ball Fit

The next fit check is from heel to the ball of the foot. The big toe joint needs to be at the widest part of the shoe. This is important because the shoe has been designed to bend at this point and this is where the foot also bends. If these two don’t match up, then excessive pressures will be placed on both the foot and the shoe. In addition to this, if the ball of the foot doesn’t line up, the arch of the foot will not be properly supported by the support in the shoe.

As we check both overall length and heel to ball, we must take into consideration that the foot may be longer in the toes or shorter in the toes in relation to the heel to ball fit. If heel to ball is longer, meaning short toes, try to fit heel to ball or a little shorter if possible. If necessary, fit heel to ball and pad with layered cork to keep toe from toeing up. Try to fit in a short toe last. If overall length is longer, then we must fit the heel to toe. Try to fit in a long toe last so as to get the best fit.

Ball Width Fit

Quite often people either fit or are fitted with the width too tight. The idea is that the upper will stretch. But this does not always happen. When fit this way, not only can the shoe wear out faster due to excessive forces on the upper, but the pressure on the foot can cause a variety of problems, such as corns, metatarsal pain, as well as foot dysfunction.

The ball width fit is challenging in another sense because the foot has three different widths at the ball: foot at rest, foot on weightbearing, and foot under conditions of heat, humidity, and moisture. The shoe, fitted with one width, must provide proper width fit under these conditions. Here again, it is a matter of experience and judgment in selecting the width.

When checking for the width fit, we look for the foot to fit flat in the shoe and to able to spread out naturally inside. We should be able to pull the upper with a slight pinch. There should not be any excess on the little or big toe. Should there be a bunion on the big toe or little toe, going wider quite often will cause the heel to be loose. In this case, we would normally spot stretch these areas in order to take the pressure off the toes and still give us a snug heel fit.

Topline Fit

The top rim of the shoe should fit snugly against the foot. There should be very little or no gapping at the side. The exception to this rule applies to dress flats or heels which will gap on the sides when the foot and shoe flexes at the ball. As we slide our hand down the sides, we also check for the topline rubbing under the ankle. If this occurs, we either look for a shoe with a lower heel counter or put a small heel lift in the shoe to take the pressure off the ankle.

Arch Fit

In good-fitting shoes, the arch area hugs closely to the foot. But sometimes stress or torsion wrinkles will be seen in the upper, on the inner under side of the arch. This could be due to fit of the shoe or due to the foot over pronating. In the event of a dysfunctional foot, one might consider an arch support added to the shoe.

Heel Fit

This is the fit of the heel of the foot into the heel space of the shoe. The fit should be snug in order to stabilize the foot at heel strike when walking. We also need to check the top to make sure that it doesn’t bite into the Achilles Tendon, causing a “pump bump.” Slippage under certain conditions, such as tight calves, can occur even when the heel appears to be snug.

Throat Fit

The shoes’ throat and throatline are the entry point for the foot into the vamp or forepart area. There must be throat room for the waist and instep to move forward during the weightbearing and step action. If the throat is too tight, then heel irritations can occur by being shoved back into the heel. As the foot expands throughout the day in size, the throatline pressure increases. If severe or prolonged enough it can cut off blood circulation to the toes and cause uncomfortable sensations of numbness or tingling in the toes, plus swelling around the waist and instep.

Volume Fit

Shoe fitters traditionally think of fit in terms of linear measurement, overall length, heel to ball, and ball width. The fitter should know beforehand that volume fit is every bit as important as traditional size fit. After all, the fitter is constantly dealing with a wide range of foot types- fleshy, fat, bony, stocky, muscular, spready, etc. Each presents its own challenge to volume fit. And unless the volume or inter-space fit is as accurate as the conventional fitting sites (length, width), we not only don’t have a proper fit, but also often cannot expect fully efficient shoe performance and comfort satisfaction.

Walk Test

Finally, after all aspects of the shoe fit have been checked, you should walk around and tell the fitter of any uncomfortable feelings. This will help the fitter to determine if a different size should be tried, adjustment should be made, or whether to bring a pedorthist into the fitting to determine if a dysfunction of the foot is occurring causing the shoe to be uncomfortable.

Foot Orthosis Fit

For the most part, the fitting of a shoe with a foot orthosis is the same as just fitting the shoe to the foot. All the same parameters must be assessed. Some styles and shapes of shoes may work better than others. This is best determined by those professional shoe fitters with training and experience.

Final Comment

As I stated at the beginning, fitting shoes is an ART with a little bit of science thrown in. Because there are more variables than you or I could imagine, the professional shoe fitter must be flexible with the fit so as to reach a proportional fit to the foot. Trained and experienced shoe fitters are the people who should fit your feet and recommend the proper shoe and size.