Schedule an Appointment

Dr. Scott Biggerstaff, MD

Whether you pride yourself on fashion or strictly look for function, buying ill-fitting shoes is an almost universal mistake. Wearing shoes that fit poorly can lead to a myriad of problems, from minor foot discomfort to stress fractures and meniscus tears.

Below are common problems ill-fitting shoes can cause and tips to prevent and manage any resulting pain. Many of these issues commonly affect women who wear shoes with high heels or narrow toe boxes.


A bunion is a bony growth that forms at the joint at the base of the big toe. Bunions can be caused or exacerbated by shoes that are too tight or narrow. Tight shoes squeeze the big toe inward and can cause the big toe joint to jut out. Bunions can also be caused by genetic factors.

How to Prevent or Minimize Pain

Wearing a shoe with a wider toe box can help alleviate pain caused by a bunion. There are also types of braces that create space between the toes. Some people even try taping their toes to help reduce pain. If these conservative measure fail to manage your pain, bunion removal surgery is an option.


A hammertoe is a condition where a toe curls up instead of lying flat due to a bend in the middle joint of the toe. When this happens, the middle toe joint will rub against the shoe, causing pain, calluses and even wounds on the top of the toe. Continuing to wear tight shoes that hold the toe in this painful position can lead to a permanent hammertoe. Narrow or tight shoes can also cause the second toe to cross over the big toe, causing pain. 

How to Prevent or Minimize Pain

Both of these conditions can be made less painful by wearing shoes that fit appropriately. If conservative treatment fails to relieve pain, then surgery may be needed.

Ingrown Toenails

An ingrown toenail happens when the edge of the toenail curves and grows into the flesh of your toe. Wearing tight or narrow shoes can press the first and second toes against each other, often causing inflammation and abnormal pressure on the toe nail. This can lead to an ingrown toenail.

How to Prevent or Minimize Pain

Wearing shoes with a wide toe box as well as soaking your feet in warm Epsom salt water can help reduce pain. When trimming your toenails, cut the nail straight across and avoid trimming the corners of the nail too short. If the nail becomes infected, it may need to be treated with antibiotics. In extreme cases, the ingrown toenail may need to be surgically removed.


A corn is a callus of thick, hardened skin. Foot corns can form in between toes when tight shoes cause friction between the toes.

How to Prevent or Minimize Pain

Corns can be treated by wearing shoes that fit appropriately and by padding the areas that rub together.

Neuropathy / Diabetic Complications

Wearing shoes that are too narrow is also a problem for people who are diabetic and who have neuropathy. Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can result from diabetes and can cause numbness, tingling and pain in the feet. 

Ill-fitting shoes can cause skin irritation that can lead to blisters. For individuals with diabetes, blisters, and other skin irritations can develop into serious infections and ulcerations if left untreated.

How to Prevent or Minimize Pain

It is especially important for people with diabetes to wear shoes that fit appropriately to avoid these complications and to check their feet daily for problems.

Dr. Scott Biggerstaff, MD, is a fellowship-trained foot and ankle surgeon at OrthoCarolina Winston. He specializes in minimally-invasive bunion surgery.

We're here to help you stay healthy, informed, and uplifted as we navigate unprecedented change in our communities together.


March 10, 2021

I enjoy reading these newsletter. Please don't stop sharing.
- Cynthia
Reply From: OrthoCarolina

March 10, 2021

Thanks Cynthia

August 05, 2020

Just want to say that I am enjoying your newsletter with these helpful bits of information.
- Pam Crotts
Reply From: OrthoCarolina

August 05, 2020

Thank you so much Pam!