Anatomy of a Shoe

You might think of your shoes as just another part of your wardrobe. However, your shoes are an important part to the health of your feet. By selecting a shoe that is well constructed and properly sized for your feet, you can help improve your overall foot health.

Components of a shoe

Although you might not think about it, your shoes are made up of various components. In many cases, the construction and fit of these individual components can either improve your foot health or lead to injury and certain foot ailments.

Toe Box

As its name implies, the toe box is the part of the shoe that covers your toes. Toe boxes can be wide or narrow, shallow or deep, and may be pointed, rounded, or squared. To best avoid issues, your toe box should be deep and long enough to allow you to wiggle your toes. A toe box that is too small can cause or worsen numerous issues, including: 

  • Bruised toenails. 
  • Bunions. 
  • Hammertoes.

Sole or Shank

The sole is the bottom part of the shoe. It is sometimes referred to as two separate pieces: insole and outsole. The insole is the part of the shoe that has direct contact with the bottom of your foot. The shoe's outsole is the portion that contacts the ground when you walk. Softer soles can  appear to be more comfortabl; however, this is not always the best option, for most activities you want a firmer sole. In most cases, you want the sole of your shoe to be stiff enough to provide good support. Too too little support can lead to foot pain as well as knee, hip and back pain.


The heel is located at the back of the shoe and it adds height to the shoe. For better foot health, it is recommended that you wear a shoe with a low heel (preferably half of an inch or smaller). However, you may be tempted by the fashion of high heels. It is important to note that high heels can lead to numerous problems, including: 

  • Achilles tendinitis. 
  • Ankle sprains and strains. 
  • Blisters, corns, and calluses. 
  • Bone spurs. 
  • Hagland's deformity, often called "pump bump".
  • Metatarsalgia (pain in the ball of your foot). 
  • Neuromas.

Heel Counter

The heel counter is the back of the heel of your shoe. The heel counter should provide adequate support to ensure that your foot does not slip out of the shoe, as this can lead to an ankle sprain.  Most importantly the heel counter helps to control the motion of the rest of the foot by firmly holding your foot in place.

Shoe construction

Shoes come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. The construction and design of your shoes can either give support to your foot or cause harm.


Some shoes are designed only for fashion. Other shoes are designed for comfort and support. It is important to find a shoe that not only looks good, but also properly supports your foot. For example, fashionable shoes with a high heel, and a narrow toe box can cause numerous foot problems. Conversely, an athletic shoe with a flat heel, a wide toe box, stiff shank, and a cushioned insole can provide good support to your foot.


Shoes made from a stiff material, like some leathers, can put unnecessary pressure on your foot and cause problems including calluses and corns. Softer materials have more "give" and will allow your foot to better move.

Proper sizing

It is important that you wear shoes that fit properly. You might think you know your shoe size; however, your foot can change sizes as you age. Also, some shoes might not be true to size. Because of this, each time you purchase new shoes you should:

  • Have both of your feet measured while you stand.
  • Try on each pair of shoes to ensure they feel like they fit. 
  • Buy your shoes at the end of the day when your feet might be swollen. 
  • Make sure you can wiggle your toes in the toe box. 
  • Not buy shoes that you need to "break in." Shoes should fit properly when you buy them.  If they are uncomfortable in the store, they will be uncomfortable later on. If you think the shoe requires "breaking in" you should find another pair.  

If you are unsure if you are wearing the best shoes for your feet, visit Dr. Siegel. You can have your shoes evaluated and your feet properly measured.

 A Note About Sneakers

Many of the newer sneakers are being made with very flexible, light-weight materials.  These sneakers do not meet the criteria discussed above for   a good, supportive sneaker.  Dr. Siegel advises that you use what she calls the "Twist Test" when buying sneakers.  If you can twist the sole of the shoe through the arch, the sneaker is not supportive.