Footwear fills a wide variety of functions in our lives. We have sport specific shoes, shoes to show off our personal style, shoes worn purely for comfort in our homes, casual footwear and seasonal footwear. In each category, shoes are manufactured with different cushioning and support features, sizes, widths and various styles. How do we know which shoe is right for our foot, and better yet, how do we know when to replace these shoes? Possibly even more pressing is the potential financial burden that results from keeping pace with constant changes in our daily activities, in the fashion industry, and the weather.
One small piece of this complicated puzzle is second hand footwear. We have all borrowed a pair of shoes, received ‘hand-me-down’ shoes from a friend or family member or have purchased a pair of ‘previously enjoyed’ shoes from a thrift store. What we might not always realize is that there are risks associated with ‘walking a mile in someone else’s shoes’, especially if you don’t know the feet that have been walking in them
Does the Shoe Fit?
The first concern is fit. Wearing shoes that are appropriately fitted to your foot is very important! Length, width and internal volume of the shoe are the top three most important considerations when looking for an appropriately fit shoe. Unwanted pressure on the sides or top of the foot or on the ends of the toes can result in discomfort, calluses, corns or blisters. This factor becomes even more critical when considering the diabetic foot. Unnecessary pressure on the foot resulting from an improperly fit shoe can be the starting point for issues such as blisters, pressure sores and ulcers. For more tips on shoe fitting, check out our blog post here.
How Worn Out Is the Shoe?
The next consideration is how worn the shoe is. Modern shoes are designed with fantastic cushioning and comfort features, but this has also reduced their life span. General guidelines for replacement include every 400 to 600 km for running or activity shoes and every 8-10 months for casual, day-to-day shoes. The difficulty with second hand shoes is that it is not always apparent how many kilometres they have endured or how worn they are. Some wear indicators are apparent, such as outsole wear and tears or rips in the upper portion of the shoe. Other indicators, like the degree of midsole compression, internal shoe wear and deteriorating interior cushioning are not always evident. The easiest way to avoid the unknown is to purchase new footwear and track the mileage or time spent wearing the shoes, using the above as a general guideline for replacement. Whether the footwear is your own or has been previously enjoyed, excessive wear patterns may exacerbate your current issues.
Assess the Condition
Another important consideration is to assess the condition of the second-hand shoes. For example, why were the shoes donated to you or sent on to a second-hand store? This point could include factors such as poor quality of construction, wear and tear, discomfort, etc. Don’t let someone’s else painful footwear problem become your own!
Should You Wear Second-Hand Athletic Shoes?
What about sport specific performance shoes? There are dozens of different types of running, hiking, casual and seasonal footwear, each designed with a particular activity in mind. It is essential to consider the demands associated with your choice of activity and ensure that the footwear you select is appropriate for the job. Many activities increase the demand placed on your feet. One way to protect your feet and lower extremities is to ensure that you are appropriately supported and cushioned through your primary connection to the ground, your feet and shoes!
Health Risks of Wearing Used Footwear
A final factor when considering second hand shoes is a bacterial build-up or fungal infections. The average foot can sweat up to a cup of liquid daily! This point alone should be a consideration when purchasing second hand shoes. Fungal or bacterial infections, such as Athlete’s foot, can be easily contracted through minor cuts, skin fissures or under the nail beds. These issues can be very invasive and difficult to treat. Shoes are often excellent breeding grounds for these issues because the interior of a shoe remains dark and damp. The easiest way to avoid contracting these types of problems is to avoid wearing shoes that have belonged to someone else!
While second hand shoes are tempting for the frugally-minded, they might not be the best for your feet. Whenever possible, purchase new footwear that fits not only your feet, but your needs as well. Not sure what shoe is right for you? Ask a pedorthist — we are here to help!