We are expected to know how to tie our own shoes by time we go to kindergarten. In the space of a few months it becomes second nature to us, and most of us never give much thought to tying our shoes again. For most people is an automatic task, just like buckling your seatbelt in a car or brushing your teeth before bed. I know I never thought much about it before I started working as a pedorthist.

Now, every day at work I have to instruct at least one patient on the proper way to tie his or her shoes. And it’s not because they forgot how, it’s because…. (drum roll please)…there is a better way!

Well, actually, there are lots of better ways.  I am not really talking about the huge variety of knots that can be used (but if you are interested, this website is the definitive authority on shoelace tying techniques http://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/knots.htm ).

Even if you think you aren’t interested, you should probably watch this TED talks video that talks about the fact that most of us have been incorrectly tying our shoes all these years:

I am more focused on the configuration of the laces in the shoe.

Part of my job is to advise patients on what shoes they should buy to optimally fit their feet.  My boss and I pour through catalogues, more often than not skimming past the “cool” shoes with all the bells and whistles – towards the “classic” otherwise known as “boring” shoe section, in order to find certain qualities that our patient needs. Some people need extra depth in their footwear so that their shoes can accommodate the super beefy orthotic they have to wear; a lot of people need a really wide toe box or a really narrow heel. Quite often people have feet that are so unusual that nothing is going to fit perfectly right out of the box, and that is where we have to get creative.

We can strategically stretch the shoes in tight places and add padding in loose spots.  And we also teach the patients new ways to tie their shoes. Following are two of the most common shoe fit problems we encounter, and the lacing techniques that can help to solve them.  (Sorry for the slightly wonky pictures – I had to be both my own model and camera man, which is always awkward…)


Heel Slipping

This is a major problem. It is very common for people to have to buy a shoe too big for one reason or another. Sometimes they have two different size feet, or they have to buy shoes slightly roomy in order to fit their foot shape. One frequently encountered problem is that person can have a wide foot but a narrow heel. No matter what the cause, heel slipping can be annoying and can cause blisters.

You may think that you don’t have a heel slipping problem, but take a look at the back of your shoe.

Do you see any little pills of sock material there? Those little pills are formed by friction so if there are a lot of them, it probably means that your heel has been rubbing up and down as you walk.

The lacing solution for heel slipping is to create Loops at the top of your laces.

Step 1: See that very top lacing hole in your shoe (the one you probably never use) well, insert the lace from that same side into it. Repeat on the other side.

Step 2: There should now be a loop at the top of your shoe on both sides. Stick the end of each shoe lace through the newly formed loop on the opposite side of the shoe

Step 3: In order to tighten your shoe, pull on the ends of your shoe laces in a downward motion until the desired tension is achieved. Then, tie your shoe as usual. You should notice that your shoe laces have formed their own “lock” on either side of your ankle. This will help keep your heel seated in the shoe and should reduce slipping.

Hot Spots

Some people have areas on their feet that are especially sensitive to pressure.  A common place for this to happen is right on the top of the foot about half way between the toes and the ankle. This is where the Tarsal bones are located. The Tarsals are small square-ish bones that fit together like stones in an archway. It is not at all unusual for one or more of these bones to stick out a little bit more than the rest, forming bumps or bulges that tend to be tighter in the shoe. These areas can get sore when a shoe is laced tightly so many people end up tying their shoes too loosely to avoid this problem.

The solution for this problem is to create a Lacing Window.

Step 1: Unlace your shoe until you can see the problem area. Make a mental note of the location of highest spot. (In my case it was just above the second lacing hole.)

Step 2: Lace your shoes up normally until you get to the sore area.

Step 3: When you get to the sore area, avoid crossing the shoe laces to the other side. Instead, insert the lace into the next hole on the same side.

Step 4: Continue lacing and tie as usual. This technique allows your shoe to be tightened above and below the sore area without placing direct pressure across the prominent bones.

Another variation of the lacing window technique is to not use the lacing holes below the sore spot at all. Of course it is always desirable to have as much support around the foot as possible, but there is no rule saying that you must use all the lacing holes in your shoe. If your foot is sore a bit further down, perhaps because of a bunion or an extra wide forefoot, it is perfectly legitimate to skip bottom lace of your shoe.

One last thing to keep in mind is that these lacing techniques can be used in combination and can be adapted endlessly to fit your particular feet. Also, don’t assume that your feet are the same on both sides; you might have to have a lacing window on your right shoe and heel loops on your left shoe.  I know these techniques seem basic (and they are) but they can really make a huge difference when it comes to shoe fit. Try it and see.

Walk well.