Singing The Hand-Me-Down Shoes Blues

By Neil L. Horsley, D.P.M.

"I've got the hand-me-down blues, 'cause I wear hand-me-down shoes."
"Where ever I go, the shoe hurts my big toe."
"I wouldn't have this rash that I caught, if only the shoes had been bought, for me."

The practice that many families have, where they pass down clothing and shoes to the next sibling in line, in an effort to save money, may work if the clothes fit. However that is not the case for the shoes. The old saying, "If the shoe fits wear it," really should not pertain to the children next in line in the family. There are many reasons why this is so. These reasons vary from the psychological effect of wearing second hand shoes to the negative effects pre-driven shoes can have on foot health.

There is a very positive effect that new clothing, in this case new shoes, has on an individual. There are self-esteem issues that are involved. Children especially need to feel good about themselves. Memories of second hand clothing (shoes) can affect how the child feels about himself for the rest of the child's life. Many times, patients mention that they believe that their foot problems are a direct result of the hand-me-down shoes they wore when they were children. These adults express how much they hated that practice during their childhood. They have never gotten over it.

There are multiple health issues associated with wearing hand-me-down shoes. First, if you would consider that the inside of a shoe is a dark environment. When a foot is inside the shoe you are adding warmth and moisture to this environment. This is perfect for certain bacteria and fungus to thrive within the materials and lining of the shoes. Many of these organisms especially the fungus can thrive within the shoe for as long as a year, and then pass along to the next foot to wear that shoe. Clearly this is a perfect way for athletes foot to get passed along from one child to another. There is also a bacterium that is a member of the Clostridia family that causes a terrible odor to emanate from the shoe especially when the shoe is removed. Sometimes washing in bleach and spraying the shoes with special powders cannot eliminate the odor causing bacteria or kill all of the fungus that resides there. Just imagine what can happen to the foot wearing one of these shoes when the foot forms a blister and exposes the underlying skin to these pathogens. The result can be a terrible bacterial or fungal infection.

Beyond the microscopic organisms, there are issues pertaining to the shoe size and fit for the next person who wears the shoes. Not all shoes will fit the same sized foot the same way. There are no two feet that are the same and structurally all feet are designed differently. Some people have a short heel to ball of the foot length and others have a long heel to ball of the foot length. Some have long toes while others have short stubby toes. Some have a long second toe, longer than the great toe. If all of these people measure for the same sized shoe, I am sure that you can clearly see that these different foot types will not feel the same in the same sized shoe, if the shoe were new. In fact the same sized new shoe will not fit all of these feet. It is truly important that a shoe will bend appropriately at the point where the ball of the foot bends the toes. If this bending of the foot or the shoe occurs at the wrong time or place on the foot or in the shoe, the shoe will cause severe problems, pain or foot malfunction. A well-worn shoe, takes on the shape and deformity of the foot wearing the shoe. This deformity is therefore "locked" into the shoe. We call this, "breaking in the shoe." A lot of people have subtle to severe foot deformities that they will lock into the shape of the shoe after wearing it for a while. Evidence of these deformities can be seen in the wear of the heel and soles of the shoes. By replacing the heels and soles of the shoes does not remove the deformities of the feet that had previously worn the shoes.

If your practice is to pass hand-me-down shoes from one sibling to the next, keep in mind that in the long run you may be saving money now but in the long run, you are promoting potentially serious foot health problems on your children. To avoid these problems, make sure that every foot gets properly measured with a Brannock device that takes into account the heel to ball length and the overall length of the foot. Remember that all feet are different and all shoes fit all feet differently.

When you provide your children with new properly fitting shoes, you allow them to have a stronger self-esteem, healthier in shoe environment and fit that allows the foot to function properly within the shoe.

About the author:

Dr. Neil L. Horsley practices from his Chicago office at:

231 E. 75th Street,
Chicago, Illinois 60619-2215
Office appointments: (773) 651-2311