The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts
Q: I just bought my third pair of gym shoes, and none of them seem to be comfortable. Could I be tying them wrong?
A: Today’s mass-produced shoes often don’t accommodate the quirks of individual feet, which may be wide or narrow or have arches that are high or low. Retying your shoes can make adjustments for those differences, and in some cases, ease your foot pain.
Foot pain might stem from any of a variety of issues, such as bunions, hammertoes, corns, calluses, ingrown nails, pinched nerves or neuromas, and heel pain from plantar fasciitis. Many of these problems can be aggravated by improperly or even properly fitted footwear. Women who opt for narrow shoes and high heels are more likely to develop foot pain.
Depending on the source of the pain, taking a few minutes to adjust the laces of your gym shoes could be a good first step to help alleviate soreness. It is certainly worth a try to see if this would decrease any pain or discomfort during walking or any athletic activities. While there is no evidence-based medical research to validate that varying your lacing method can bring pain relief, there’s little reason not to give it a shot.
Adjusting your shoelace placement is easy to do by repositioning the laces in the eyelets, which are the small holes that run on either side of the tongue of your shoe through which you thread the laces. You can target your specific foot problem by changing which eyelets the laces pass through.
If your feet are wide, try lacing your shoes horizontally instead of using an overlapping X pattern. If your shoes feel too tight in spots, try skipping a few eyelets at intervals to ease pressure at those points.
If you’re having pain in your heels, be sure to tie your laces tightest in the spot closest to your heel and loosen them in the front, toward your toes. Anchor the laces at the top by making a loop at the last eyelet before you tie it closed.
While some achy feet may be helped by a quick shoelace adjustment, in other instances pain may signal something more significant that warrants a doctor’s attention. Depending on the issue or problem, you should see their doctor about foot pain if it doesn’t get better despite wearing different shoes and changing how you tie them.
Pay particular attention to symptoms that may signal an urgent problem, such as a foot or toe that is hot, red or swollen. These symptoms may indicate a stress fracture, infection, arthritis or gout.
(Howard LeWine, M.D., is an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. For additional consumer health information, please visit www.health.harvard.edu.)