Why You Need Bigger Walking Shoes

Feet Swell and Larger Shoes Prevent Problems

Low view of woman walking wearing walking shoes

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One of the most common mistakes people make when they start walking for fitness is to buy walking shoes that are the same size as their dress shoes. Learn why you need a bigger shoe size when you are walking for more than 30 minutes at a time.

Your Feet Swell During a Walking Workout

As you are exercising, your heart is pumping more rapidly and sending more blood to your extremities. The smaller blood vessels have more blood flow.

You will notice that your hands warm up after a few minutes of walking on a cold day. The same is happening with your feet. As you continue walking, you may even notice that your hands are a bit swollen—and so are your feet.

Feet may swell a half size or more during long walks or runs. This is normal and you should expect it to happen.

Problems With Walking Shoes That Are too Small

The problems you could be seeing from too-small shoes might include:

  • Blisters: Your feet will rub against the sides of your shoe as well as your toes rubbing against each other. This friction can lead to blisters.
  • Black toenails / losing toenails: When your toes jam against the front of the toe box of the shoe, you can damage the toenail, leading to a bruise under the toenail that turns it black. Often, this leads to losing the toenail. While it will grow back, this can be painful and distressing.
  • Bunion pain: If your foot doesn't have enough room in the shoe, it can press on a bunion and lead to pain.
  • Hammertoe pain: If you have hammertoes (a toe with a permanent downward bend), wearing a shoe that is too small can lead to more pain.
  • Increased wear on your shoes: Your shoes may have bulges or worn spots where your toes are rubbing on them.

Many Wear Shoes That Are too Small

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that many adults wear shoes inappropriate for their foot size, with women especially at risk. This can cause issues with bunions, hammertoes, corns, and other foot problems caused or worsened by ill-fitting shoes.

As a result, they may not know what correctly-fit shoes feel like. Your feet swell even more when walking or running, so you may need athletic shoes one to two sizes larger than the size you normally wear (which, again, is likely to be already too small.)

Feet Continue to Grow and Spread

Your feet will also become wider as you mature, changing throughout the years. If you have gained weight or if you have been pregnant, your feet may have gotten larger then too. So, you should get properly fitted for shoes each year.

Knowing Your Shoes Fit

You should be able to wiggle your toes in the shoes. There should be a finger's width of room in the toe box when you stand up before you've been walking and your heel should be contained in the heel cup, not letting your foot slide forward in the shoe with every step.

It is best to get fitted for your walking shoes at the best running shoe store in your area, the one that serious runners go to for their shoes. Those stores are the most likely to have a sales staff interested in getting you into the right shoes. Unless you have gotten properly fitted for athletic shoes, you may be one of the many who doesn't know what properly fit shoes feel like.

And keep in mind that walkers can wear running shoes to walk. There are often more more styles and sizes available, including different widths. By considering running shoes, you may help yourself find the best fit.

It's smart to go for a shoe fitting after a walking workout or at the end of the day when your feet will be more swollen naturally.

Shoes That Are Too Big Can Also Create Problems

Wearing shoes that are too big can produce some of the same problems as shoes that are too small. If your foot slides forward in the shoe with each step, you can get black toenails or lose toenails. You may also get blisters or irritate your bunions or hammertoes from the extra friction and impact.

A Word From Verywell

It can wound your ego to buy shoes in a larger size, but it will make your feet much happier. Happy feet, happy walking, happy life. Make the trip to the running shoe store to find out what size will suit you best.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mateo A. Why do runners get swollen feet? Runner's World.

  2. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Tight shoes and foot problems.

  3. Muchna A, Najafi B, Wendel C, Schwenk M, Armstrong D, Mohler J. Foot problems in older adults: associations with incident falls, frailty syndrome, and sensor-derived gait, balance, and physical activity measures. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 2018;108(2):126-39. doi:10.7547/15-186

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Shoes getting tight? Why your feet change size over time.

  5. Segal N, Boyer E, Teran-Yengle, Glass N, Hillstrom H, Yack HJ. Pregnancy leads to lasting changes in foot structure. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2013;92(3):232-40. doi:10.1097/PHM.0b013e31827443a9

  6. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. Walking and your feet.

  7. McCoy J. How to stop a black toenail from ruining your runs. Runner's World.

Additional Reading
  • Athletic Shoes. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

  • Shoes: Finding the Right Fit. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

  • Position Statement: Cosmetic Foot and Ankle Surgery. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society.

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.