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Working With Wide Feet: Solutions That Help

Comfort Strategies for Wide Feet

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Table of Contents

Understanding the causes and solutions for wide feet is essential for anyone experiencing discomfort or difficulties finding suitable footwear.

Wide feet can result from genetics, medical conditions, or lifestyle factors like aging and weight gain. If not addressed properly, these factors can lead to pain, discomfort, and complications.

This article delves into the primary causes of wide feet, the associated challenges, and effective strategies for managing them, offering valuable insights to improve your overall foot health and comfort.

Read on to learn how to alleviate foot pain, find appropriate footwear, and maintain healthy, happy feet.

What Causes Wide Feet?

Wide feet can be caused by a number of different factors in your life: Image of a woman's feet seated on the floor.

Like any other body part, feet come in many shapes and sizes. The shape of your foot also depends on your exercise background, environment, and any changes you might undergo throughout your lifetime. 

Understanding the causes of wide feet can help individuals take proactive steps to manage their foot health.  

Addressing these underlying issues can improve overall comfort and mobility, whether the cause is genetic, related to a medical condition, or influenced by lifestyle factors such as aging and weight gain.


One of the primary reasons for having wide feet is something we have no control over—our genetics.  

If your parents or grandparents had wide feet, there’s quite a good chance you’ll inherit this trait.  

Genetic predisposition can dictate the entire shape and structure of your feet from birth, not just whether they are wide or narrow. This includes the width of the forefoot, the arch height, and the overall foot volume.  

Inherited foot characteristics are often apparent early in life and tend to become more pronounced as a person grows.  

Genetic factors can also influence how your feet respond to external stresses, impacting foot width.1

Foot Deformities and Conditions

Certain foot deformities and medical conditions can cause the foot to spread out and appear wider. Common conditions include bunions, flat feet, edema, and pregnancy.


A bunion is a bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of your big toe. It occurs when some of the bones in the front part of your foot move out of place, forcing the tip of your big toe to get pulled toward the smaller toes and causing the joint at the base of your big toe to stick out, resulting in a wider forefoot.

Flat Feet

Flat feet (otherwise known as pes planus) occur when the arches on the inside of your feet are flattened or collapsed, allowing the entire sole to touch the floor when you stand up.  

This condition can lead to a broader foot profile as the lack of arch support allows the foot to splay outwards or overpronate.1  

We’ll talk a bit more about overpronation later. 


Wide feet: edema is a common cause of wide feet, especially among pregnant women.

Edema is swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your body’s tissues. When it occurs in the feet, it can temporarily or permanently increase the width of your feet.

Edema can be caused by various factors, including prolonged standing, hormonal changes, certain medications, and underlying medical conditions such as heart or kidney disease.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause edema in the feet and relax and stretch ligaments in the feet, leading to a permanent increase in foot width.  Additionally, the increased weight and fluid retention during pregnancy can contribute to wider feet.

Many women share anecdotally that their feet “grew a size” during pregnancy—this is why! 

Age-Related Changes

Our feet tend to flatten and widen as we age due to the loss of elasticity in connective tissues (like ligaments and tendons) in your foot.  

Over time, the repetitive stress and strain placed on the feet can cause the arches to collapse gradually and lose their height, leading to a broader foot structure.  

This natural aging process is often exacerbated by decreased collagen production, degenerative joint changes, and weight gain. 

Reduction in Collagen

With age, the body produces less collagen, which is essential for maintaining ligaments and tendons’ elasticity and strength.  

Reduced collagen levels can cause these structures to weaken and stretch, leading to a flatter and broader foot.

Joint Changes and Arthritis

The joints and bones in the feet also undergo degenerative changes over time, including the development of arthritis. These changes can alter the alignment and distribution of pressure across the foot, increasing width.

Overweight and Obesity

Weight gain can also contribute to wider feet, as the additional weight places more pressure on the foot structure, causing it to expand. The increased load can flatten the arches and spread the forefoot.  

This effect is particularly pronounced in individuals who gain a significant amount of weight in a short period or those who are obese.  

Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can help mitigate some of the stress placed on the feet and prevent excessive widening.

Complications Associated with Wide Feet

Just as there are a number of causes for wide feet, there are also an array of side effects that you might encounter. Here are some of the more commonly reported issues that people with wide feet tend to experience.

Discomfort and Pain

People with wide feet often experience significant foot pain and discomfort, especially when wearing shoes that do not adequately accommodate their foot width.  

This discomfort may arise from various factors such as pressure points, blisters, calluses, or even the development of Morton’s neuroma.

When shoes are too narrow, they can cause excessive friction between the shoe and the skin. Tight shoes can create pressure points, wounds, or blisters where the shoe material presses against the bony prominences of the foot. This friction often occurs at the sides of the toes or the metatarsal heads.

Blisters & Calluses

Calluses can be caused by inadequate footwear as well as wide feet.

Blisters—painful fluid-filled pockets that protect the underlying tissue—often form while walking or moving for more extended periods in too-small shoes.

Repeated friction and pressure from ill-fitting shoes can also cause calluses. These thickened skin areas develop as a protective response to continuous irritation.  

While calluses can protect deeper tissues, they can also become painful and lead to further foot issues. Calluses should be monitored and shaved down in a hygienic environment when they become too prominent.

Morton’s Neuroma

Finally, a painful condition called Morton’s Neuroma may develop. This condition involves the thickening of tissue around one of the nerves leading to the toes, often causing a sharp, burning pain in the ball of the foot.  

Tight shoes that squeeze the foot can exacerbate this condition, making it more common in individuals with wide feet who wear inappropriate footwear.2

Altered Walking Patterns

Individuals with wide feet often develop ‘compensatory’ gait patterns to alleviate discomfort caused by ill-fitting shoes. A common adjustment I see often in my physical therapy practice is walking with the feet turned outward, sometimes called a “duck walk.” 

This outward rotation can create additional space within the shoe, reducing pressure on the sides of the feet. However, this altered gait can lead to imbalances and increased strain on other body parts, particularly the knees, hips, and lower back.  

The unnatural foot positioning can disrupt the body’s alignment and biomechanics, leading to secondary issues such as joint pain and muscular strain in these areas.

Foot and Ankle Muscle Imbalances

Wide feet and other foot and ankle dysfunction can lead to pain if left untreated.

Wide feet can sometimes be associated with weak intrinsic foot muscles, which are small muscles within the foot. These muscles are crucial in maintaining the arch and providing stability during movement.  

When intrinsic muscles are weak, the foot’s arch may collapse, leading to flat feet and overpronation. Overpronation, in turn, can exacerbate the strain on the foot’s ligaments and tendons, further contributing to discomfort and potential injury.  

Strengthening these intrinsic muscles through specific exercises can help support the arch, improve foot stability, and reduce the risk of related problems.3

Compensatory Movements and Chronic Injuries

Compensatory movements, such as overpronation, commonly seen in individuals with wide feet, can cause the calf muscles to become tight and overworked.  

As we mentioned earlier, overpronation results in excessive inward rolling and outward splaying of the foot, which places additional stress on the calf muscles as they attempt to stabilize and support the altered foot mechanics.  

This increased workload can lead to muscle tightness and fatigue. Tight calf muscles can contribute to plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis, which cause pain and discomfort around the arch and heel area of the affected foot.  

Both conditions cause significant pain and can limit mobility. Regular stretching and strengthening of the calf muscles are essential to prevent and manage these issues.

What to Do If You Experience Regular Foot Pain

Addressing these complications requires a multifaceted approach, including choosing appropriate footwear, using orthotic inserts, and performing specific exercises to strengthen and stabilize the foot.  

Understanding and managing compensations is crucial for maintaining foot health and overall well-being. Consulting with a physical therapist or podiatrist can provide personalized strategies to manage and alleviate the issues associated with wide feet.

Lets take a look at some simple ways you can begin to take care of your feet, regardless of width.

Finding Proper Footwear for Wide Feet

There are a number of varieties of shoe options for wide feet on the market today.

Finding suitable footwear is one of the most significant challenges for individuals with wide feet.  

Standard shoe sizes often do not provide enough width, leading to several issues, including restricted foot movement and resulting deformities.

Too-narrow shoes may cause blisters and pressure points (as we mentioned previously) and restrict natural foot movement, preventing the toes from splaying naturally during walking or running.  

This restriction can cause discomfort and impair balance and gait. Without giving the bones, muscles, and ligaments in the foot their full ability to contract and relax to facilitate proper movement, you may find yourself tripping over objects or losing your footing.  

Wearing narrow shoes over an extended period can also lead to structural changes in the foot. Poor-fitting shoes can exacerbate the development of bunions, hammertoes, and other toe and foot deformities.  

It’s often easy to overlook how closely intertwined your feet are with other body areas. This explains why you may also experience soreness or pain in other muscles, including your calves and hips.

These deformities cause pain and further complicate the challenge of finding comfortable shoes. If you suspect that you might have this or any other medical condition, ask your doctor for guidance.

Best Options for Footwear

Orthotics are commonly recommended for wide feet and other related issues

Wide or Extra-Wide Shoes

The most straightforward solution for individuals with wide feet is to choose shoes specifically designed with a wider fit.  

Many brands offer wide or extra-wide options that provide additional space in the toe box and midfoot area, ensuring the foot can spread naturally without being constricted.  

This increased width helps to prevent the discomfort and pain associated with wearing shoes that are too narrow.  

Wide or extra-wide shoes also help avoid pressure points, blisters, and calluses by allowing the foot to move more freely and comfortably. These shoes can significantly enhance overall foot health and comfort by accommodating the natural shape and size of wide feet.

Fortunately, a “wide” sizing option is available for many varieties of shoes, but it is not universally offered. This limitation can make it challenging to find appropriate shoes for various occasions, from everyday wear to formal events to athletic activities. 

However, the fashion and shoe industry often cater to standard foot sizes, leaving fewer stylish and functional options for those with wide feet.  

Custom Orthotics

Custom orthotics can be an excellent option for individuals with wide feet. These specially designed shoe inserts are tailored to the specific shape and needs of the wearer’s feet, providing better arch support and distributing pressure more evenly across the foot.  

Orthotics can address biomechanical issues such as overpronation—common in individuals with wide feet—and help properly align the foot and lower leg.  

Orthotics offer customized support and cushioning, alleviating pain and discomfort, reducing the risk of injury, and enhancing overall foot function.  

They are particularly beneficial for people who struggle with finding shoes that provide adequate support and comfort.4

I want to note that although orthotics will provide additional aid for certain conditions, you will still likely need to invest in wider shoes.

Stretchable and Adjustable Shoes

Shoes made from stretchable materials or those with adjustable features such as straps or laces can offer a more customized fit for wide feet.  

Stretchable materials, like knit fabrics or elastic components, can adapt to the shape and movements of the foot, providing a snug yet flexible fit that accommodates variations in foot width.  

Conversely, adjustable shoes allow wearers to modify the fit according to their comfort needs. Features like Velcro straps, elastic laces, or buckles enable fine-tuning of the shoe’s tightness, ensuring the foot is securely held without being compressed.  

These options are particularly useful for individuals whose foot width may change due to swelling or different activity levels throughout the day.  

Stretchable and adjustable shoes can significantly improve comfort and reduce the risk of foot problems for people with wide feet by providing a more adaptable and personalized fit.

Overall, selecting the proper footwear is crucial for managing the complications of wide feet.  

Whether opting for wide or extra-wide shoes, custom orthotics, or shoes with stretchable and adjustable features, the key is to ensure that the footwear accommodates the natural width and shape of the feet.  

Proper footwear enhances comfort and is vital in preventing injuries, improving mobility, and maintaining overall foot health.

Key Takeaways

  • Genetics, medical conditions, and lifestyle factors such as aging and weight gain can result from wide feet.
  • Genetics influence foot shape, including width, forefoot, arch height, and overall foot volume.
  • Common causes include bunions, flat feet, edema, and pregnancy.
  • Bunions cause the forefoot to widen; flat feet lead to a broader profile and overpronation.
  • Edema increases foot width due to fluid retention; pregnancy causes hormonal changes and weight gain affecting foot width.
  • Aging and weight gain cause feet to flatten and widen due to decreased ligament elasticity and increased pressure.
  • Wide feet often lead to discomfort and pain, particularly with narrow shoes, causing blisters, calluses, and Morton’s neuroma.
  • Compensatory movements and weak intrinsic foot muscles can exacerbate foot issues.
  • Finding proper footwear is challenging; wide or extra-wide shoes, custom orthotics, and stretchable or adjustable shoes are recommended.
  • Proper footwear prevents discomfort, enhances comfort, and maintains overall foot health.


  1. Carr, J. B., Yang, S., & Lather, L. A. (2016). Pediatric pes planus: a state-of-the-art review. Pediatrics, 137(3).
  2. Moon, E. M., Sang, J. S., & Park, M. J. (2018). Foot discomfort by foot shape, shoe design and wearing attitude. Journal of the Korea Fashion and Costume Design Association, 20(4), 117-130.
  3. Mica, N., & Nagrale, O. (2020). Treatment of Pronated Foot-A Review. Indian Journal of Physiotherapy & Occupational Therapy Print-(ISSN 0973-5666) and Electronic–(ISSN 0973-5674), 14(3), 143-148.
  4. Banwell, H. A., Mackintosh, S., & Thewlis, D. (2014). Foot orthoses for adults with flexible pes planus: a systematic review. Journal of foot and ankle research, 7, 1-18.