REUTERS/Nigel Roddis
REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

Sandal season will soon be upon us, and I’ve been perusing websites for spring shoes that provide enough comfort and support to walk around the city after work. That’s proving to be a tough challenge based on advice I received from Dr. Kenneth Leavitt, chief of podiatric medicine and reconstructive foot surgery at New England Baptist Hospital.

Flats are out, he told me, as are sky-high heels. “You should look for a shoe with one-inch heel differential,” Leavitt said. That means a shoe with a two-inch platform at the sole should have a three-inch heel, like these or these. “Running shoes or the Dansko clogs worn by doctors and nurses are the best things to wear for your feet,” he said.

Dansko’s strappy sandals look to meet the criteria as well, but be prepared to spend over $100. The vast majority of the shoes I found on websites such as Zappos.com—usually the most trendy—had heels that were too high or too low for maximum comfort and arch support.

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Men have it easy since their shoes are usually designed with a one-inch heel differential, but in women’s fashion, ballet flats or extreme heels dominate trendy store shelves. Wearing these while walking or standing for extensive periods of time could lead to chronic foot problems.

“Flat shoes stress the Achilles tendon and cause extensive pronation or flattening of the feet,” Leavitt explained. Walking on a hard surface without the proper arch support can eventually lead to fallen arches, causing pain, swollen ankles, and weak lower leg muscles. Surgery is sometimes warranted to fix it.

High heels can cause persistent foot problems including corns, calluses or misshapen hammertoes, and they can aggravate bunions or lead to excruciating pain in the ball of the foot due to inflammation or stress fractures.

Just ask Sarah Jessica Parker, who told reporters last month that she had to stop wearing high heels because of extensive foot damage.

Wearing flats or heels occasionally won’t usually cause these problems—Parker said she wore heels 18 hours a day—but Leavitt recommends wearing a proper shoe 90 percent of the time.

Other design aspects to look for: Shoes that fit well, not too tight or too loose that they rub up and down against your heel as you walk. The toe box should be wide enough so your toes don’t feel squeezed. Shoes should be sized to the larger foot and should be tried on for fit in the late afternoon or evening when feet tend to be a little swollen.