By Carol Milano

Do your feet bother you at the end of the workday? You're not alone: 55% of Americans sometimes miss work because of foot problems.*

Promising news comes from a recent study of 122 New York City police officers, who walk an average of three miles each day. They volunteered to wear custom-fitted shoe insoles for about seven hours a day, for five weeks.

"A surprising number of the officers said they have foot pain. They're on their feet all day, and have to wear stiff shoes that don't breathe," says Ellen Sobel, DPM, PhD, a professor at New York College of Podiatric Medicine. Wearing insoles significantly reduced foot fatigue at the end of the workday. 70% of the police officers said they'd keep using the insoles after the study ended.

An insole is either a shoe's interior, lying against the foot's sole, or an insert. Any pad lining the bottom portion of a shoe provides extra cushioning to help absorb shock, reduce friction, and improve overall comfort.

"First see if a simple heel cup from the pharmacy helps," suggests Dr. Sobel. "Over-the-counter insoles are a cost-effective way to relieve foot pain and make shoes more comfortable. If foot pain persists, consider customized insoles (made by a podiatrist). These use a more effective shock-absorbing material that's better at reducing the impact of the heel striking the ground."

Prices vary widely: pre-fabricated insoles cost about $10 in the pharmacy, $30 to $60 in the clinic at a podiatric college, and $70 to $300 or more for custom-molded inserts. A visit to a podiatrist may be covered by health insurance, but insoles rarely are. However, these orthotic devices "can last nearly forever," Dr. Sobel notes.


Another way to banish foot problems is to pick work shoes wisely. "Choose a shoe with the best shock absorber: a rubber sole," advises Steven Levitz, DPM, a New York City podiatrist. "The thicker and wider the sole, the more surface area you have to disperse the pressure of walking, friction, and moving. People prone to foot calluses nearly always get fewer of them when wearing a rubber-soled shoe. Thicker soles help firefighters or anyone who runs and pounds their feet."

Look for leather uppers, because leather breathes and molds to the shape of your foot. For anyone prone to ankle sprains, Dr. Levitz recommends a boot. "More eyelets afford more lacing to get additional support for the ankle, muscles and tendons," he notes.

Work shoes or boots can be as light as 10 or 11 ounces, or weigh up to three pounds. The weight often relates to the density of the rubber sole and the construction of the shoe. "In general, lighter boots are made of less durable materials that compress more. Heavier boots will last longer," says Dr. Levitz. Price is no indicator of wear or comfort.

When a well-chosen work shoe more evenly disperses the weight on the bottom of your foot, it eliminates the high pressure in specific areas that can lead to pain. "When any part of your foot hurts, you walk differently, expending more energy. If you've walked abnormally all day, you may have pain in another part of your body, since muscles are sore from limping," Dr. Levitz observes.

Here's the bottom line on why it's worth wearing the right work shoes or insoles: "If your feet don't hurt, you're less tired at the end of the day," concludes Dr. Levitz.

To find a qualified podiatrist, visit

* according to a poll by the American Podiatric Medical Association in 2000.

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