Ah, the boot, fall’s quintessential footwear. Fun to shop for in all the textures, shapes, and heel heights, boots can nevertheless sometimes prove to be a pain to break in—specifically by causing blisters and bunions. In addition to these common side effects of new footwear, podiatrist Jacqueline M. Sutera, DPM, cites ingrown nails, pinched nerves, neuromas, hammertoes, and worsening of corns as potential outcomes of wearing boots (or any shoe, really) that are too stiff or tight.
The good news? You needn’t necessarily contend with blood-soaked socks and throbbing toes. Follow a few pro tips—both for buying boots and for breaking them in (if you’ve already bought them)—and you may just prove that style and comfort can, in fact, coexist. Below, a podiatrist’s tips for your comfiest boot season yet.
If you’re buying boots
Still in the shopping process? Employ these handy tips.
Heed the heel height
Simply put, your best bet is to stick with shorter, blockier options that offer your foot more support and allow you to distribute your weight more evenly across your entire sole. “Heels shift your weight forward,” Dr. Sutera explains. “The higher the heel, the more potential there is for pinching in the forefoot.” If you try on boots and they tip your weight forward onto the ball of your feet or cause your tootsies to cram into the toe box, that’s a telltale sign that they’re too high to qualify as comfy or podiatrist-approved.
Forget flat-to-the-ground forms
That said, while a sky-high heel is bound to bring pain, a totally flat sole isn’t ideal, either. Flat shoes often lack necessary shock absorption needed to protect your feet from repetitive contact with hard surfaces like concrete. This can leave them feeling tired, unsupported, and riddled with issues. Something else they’ll do? “Contribute to pronation [rolling of the foot outward] and collapse of the arch, which may contribute to planter and posterior heel pain, shin splints, knee pain, and back pain,” Miguel Cunha, DPM, previously told Well+Good.
Dr. Sutera offers a simple test to determine if the shoes in question offer enough support. “If you can practically feel the pavement pounding beneath your feet, you’re likely in need of a boost,” she says. Instead, look for a sturdy, thick sole with a slight heel, advises Dr. Sutera. In addition to creating a barrier between your feet and the street, styles like that offer more ankle stability, she says. When your ankles are more stable, there’s less of a chance of your rolling them.
Toggle between toe shapes
In addition to heel height, toe shape is an important consideration when you’re going for comfort. In particular, it’s best to avoid boots that taper or end in a point since they present major pinch potential. Plus, such ultra-close skin-on-skin contact is a recipe for friction… and, ultimately, blisters. Better options include round- or square-toed boots because their toe boxes are roomier. This is especially wise advice to follow if you have bunions or hammertoes, says Dr. Sutera.
Mind the materials
As with clothing, the material of a shoe can make or break its comfiness. According to Dr. Sutera, patent leather, as well as vegan leather, can prove particularly difficult to “break in,” as there’s not much room for the material to move, stretch, and essentially form to the unique shape of your foot. On the other end of the “stretchy” spectrum: “Suede and natural leathers,” Dr. Sutera notes, “which tend to ‘give’ more easily.” If your sartorial repertoire is, by choice, devoid of these materials, try an alternative made to mimic the stretch and feel of the real deal—or slip into something cozy with fabric shoes made from cotton or canvas. (These materials tend to have a bit of natural ‘give’.) Moreover, Dr. Sutera suggest “breathable, waterproof material” (think Gortex) as an excellent boot fabric, particularly for the weather whims of the season.
Seek arch support
Like a steadfast friend, your go-to booties should lend support. Specifically midsole support, says Dr. Sutera. Also known as arch support, midsole support “…can prevent tendonitis and heel pain, Velimir Petkov, DPM, previously told Well+Good.
Tips for making uncomfortable boots more comfortable
If you’ve already purchased a pair of boots…and you think you’re developing foot issues already…fear not! There are a few things you may be able to finagle.
Soften the exterior
Remember, less-rigid materials have more give, making them more malleable. If you’ve bought leather boots, try “ay for this [purpose]” Dr. Sutera suggests buying a shoe leather softening product designed specifically to help make hard leather less rigid faster, rather than breaking them in the hardway (read: at the expense of your feet) over time.
Stretch it out
Another pro-tip: Physically stretch out your boots with the help of a shoe tree, a foot-shaped device you slip into your shoes to stand in for your feet and break your shoes in while you’re not wearing them. Alternatively, you may be able to have your shoes professionally stretched by a cobbler or at a local shoe-repair shop.
Switch up your socks
Though there are no steadfast rules for sock-selection and it really comes down to personal preference, Dr. Sutera does caution against socks that add significant bulk. “If your socks are too thick while wearing boots, they could contribute to minor ailments from blisters and ingrown nails to more serious conditions like pinched nerves and worsening of corns, hammertoes, and bunions,” she says. Follow these boot pro tips and you’ll be able to put your best foot forward this fall.
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