Foot & AnkleJust PostedPain


Like many of us gals, I’ve had my share of foot problems. Some of it is genetic, and some is behavioral. I’m going to take a shot at listing the behavioral issues which can result in foot pain, not necessarily in the order of importance, statistical prevalence or personal experience. This is just a list of issues as they come to my mind.

High heels

High heels

High heels

Other unhealthy shoes (tight, pointed, small, backless, flip-floppity, Chinese foot binding)

Acute injury

Repetitive injury

Failed surgery

Successful surgery


And now I’m adding SOCKS to that list.

Why the lowly sock? Because it’s too damn tight. I spent a lot of time telling patients…and myself, to wear shoes that look like they fit the foot. That means if you put the shoe next to your fully-weight-bearing foot, and look down…does it look like that foot will fit in that shoe? If you were to make a cutout of your foot on a piece of paper, would it fit in your shoe? That answer, especially for women, is almost categorically, “NO.” And if it is “NO,” then your shoe is simply squishing your foot. That doesn’t just mean it’s tight. It means it is squishing the little delicate nerves, tendons and muscles which live down there. And if you wear shoes like that every day, every week and all of even part of your adult life, you will be doing structural, metabolic, neurological and every other kind of damage to your foot. And we will have pain.

The guys aren’t so bad. They stopped wearing high heels after 1972. They survived having poor parents who made them wear the same pair of shoes for two years, and hand-me-downs. Once they had control over their own shoes, guess what they did? They wore wide toe box shoes and sneakers. The majority of patients complaining of painful conditions of the feet are women. And it’s because we essentially started “binding” our feet from the time we were little girls. I remember my mom buying me pointed, little “Mary Janes.” But she never allowed me to wear a high heel. I had to wait until I made my own money to do that, and bought high heels with my first paycheck from Palais Royal. But just those few, early developmental years of not wearing high heels, might have spared my feet from the severe pain many of my friends and patients experience. Now, it’s a different story. Girls start wearing high heels at a young age.

But I digress. I wasted a lot of time getting folks to wear shoes that fit, and forgot, that underneath those shoes, we were wearing socks. Again, looking at history…we wore socks without much elastic, and the elastic we had was weak. It wore out quickly. Shortly after buying them, our socks would begin to sag at our ankles, and we would darn them (sew them up) when we wore holes in them! We didn’t buy packages of six socks. We owned 2 pair, and they did not squeeze our feet, because they were old and worn out. It wasn’t just a fashion statement. It was popular because most of us couldn’t afford nice socks. If your parents had the money to buy new shoes and tight-fitting socks, you scuffed up the shoes and stretched out the socks to look like all your friends’ shoes and socks.

But the inexpensive socks of today are made with some kind of tenacious elastic. They shrink when we wash them. And they squeeze the shit out of our feet. I used to notice that after about an hour of walking in my expertly fitted jogging shoes, my feet would begin to tingle. I got wider shoes, to no avail. I figured I must be developing neuropathy. I had been telling many of my patients to stop wearing support stockings, for this very reason. They simply cut off the circulation to the foot, either by just being too tight, or because they roll up around the ankle and calf, forming essentially a tourniquet. I had also stopped wearing regular, shorty jogging socks, and gone to the more loosely woven “diabetic” socks, with some success in terms of foot pain and numbness.

I stopped wearing any sock resulting in even the slightest indentation in the skin of my foot or ankle. If there was an indention at the end of the day, then they were putting pressure on the delicate structures along the top of my foot, where there is no padding, or in between my toes, where the digital nerves live.

One day I was out watering the lawn in my cheapy-lawn-watering-slip-on-Sketcher-knock-offs, when I decided to go ahead a take my evening walk. I just forgot to change into my high-dollar, well-fitted athletic shoes, arch supports and diabetic socks. I realized the omission a mile or so into the walk, because my feet weren’t burning. And my cheapy shoes were actually pretty comfy. After that, I stopped wearing socks with athletic shoes, and now…with most shoes. I don’t wear the little socklets with my flats. This fall, I might try it with my boots. Fortunately, I don’t suffer sweaty or stinky feet (TMI?), but if I did, I would just wash my shoes more often, and certainly not wear the same shoe two days in a row! Novel idea, right?

Long story short. Your socks might be the culprit causing your foot pain. Stop wearing them and see!


*As always, my posts aren’t meant to get in between you and the recommendations of your personal physician. Check with them if you have any questions regarding whether or not my recommendations would be appropriate for you…stinky feet notwithstanding.


  1. Richard Haas

    Seems like good advice………..as usual. But what about prescribed compression stockings? I have been wearing them, on my doctors advice, for 5 or 6 years now. Prescribed for a discoloration on my left lower leg. As long as I pull them up a couple times a day I don’t have a problem with the “indentation”,

    1. Barbara

      As I said at the end of this blog, I’m not intending to get in between you and your regular doc. If your doc prescribed compression stockings or socks, and you wear them appropriately, meaning they’re not too tight and you keep them pulled up, then they’re fine. In my experience, they’re often too tight, and tend to roll up. I never recommend the below knee socks, because they almost always dig in around the calf, forming a tourniquet. Just make sure they’re not digging into your flesh or causing numbness.

  2. Nancy

    Dr. Bergin: Thank you so much for posting about topics that help aging feet! Would you please consider doing a post on loss of fat pads on bottom of feet? Symptoms and preventive care? Thanks for all you do.

  3. Carol

    Thank you for this!! I rarely wear socks – can’t stand how restrictive they feel. Now I have some solid evidence to back up my weird behavior!! And I love the suggestion about placing the prospective shoe down next to my foot and visualizing – it’s getting more and more important for me to wear appropriate shoes – we travel a lot and I never worry about how stylish my footwear looks – it’s ever so important to have the support and comfort for especially walking on cobblestone streets. Great advice as always Barbara!!

  4. Carol

    One more thing… random question… your opinion on the classic Birkenstock two strap sandal? That’s almost all I wear in the Summer and I’m wondering if it gives me too much wiggle room. When i put on my closed in shoes I’m feeling a bit of discomfort but figured that’s to be expected.

    1. Barbara

      That’s a complicated question! I got rid of ALL my backless shoes. ALL of them, including Birks and Mephistos. They are dangerous, simply because they’re loose. The looseness is what makes them comfy. The curve of the sandal holds your foot in place, so they stay on for the most part. But it’s the looseness which separates the shoe from the bottom of your foot when you take a step. This keeps your brain from being able to sense where the bottom of your foot is. Makes you more likely to trip or slip. If you wear them tight, then they’re no different than any other shoe. Hope this helps. It’s your call, of course.

    1. Barbara

      Thanks Jimmie. Sometimes I feel pretty wise about this kind of stuff! I had a lot of education. I practiced medicine for a really long time, but I also have a lot of personal experience following injuries, surgeries, and just the natural course of aging! You might like my posts which are called, “What I Do.”

    2. Barbara

      Thank you Jimmie! I have had a lot of education, as well as professional and personal experience to help guide me to help my patients, and my blog followers! Thanks for being one of them!

  5. Joan

    This is such good advice. I finally realized that I was cutting off the circulation to my feet by wearing 2 pairs of sox…with my Hoka walking shoes, and they were too snug. My hammer toes and bunions didn’t help. My foot numbness and tingling has mostly stopped. For years I had jobs that required me to wear
    athletic shoes as I was on my feet a lot which saved me from the high heels.

    I had surgery for my bunions thirty years ago but they have partially grown back, though not like before. I think they are genetic. I am 83 years old and in good health.

  6. Karen Anderson

    Thanks again for a great blog !! And for always helping all of us !! We still really miss you !! Hope you are having fun !!


  7. Jan

    Thank you for validating what I’ve been noticing! I have a thing about tight socks lol, can’t stand them against my toes so I’ve been buying large ones….which seem to fit my smallish feet. I’m looking at another surgery soon to fix a failed bunion surgery, recommendation is to fuse the big toe joint and stop things from moving around. Fingers crossed for success this time!

    1. Barbara

      Sorry it’s come down to a fused toe. You’ll be better off though. Do EVERYTHING your surgeon tells you to do, or not do after surgery! If I were having my big toe fused, I would not wear socks post op, until that fusion is 100% healed, cuz the socks will exert pressure on the end of that toe, and cause tension on the fusion. Ask your doc for specific post op and long term instructions! Best to you and your surgeon. I will send positive Chi to you both!

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