Generally speaking, most things in nature grow with age (Just think about your waistline). In fact – it is pretty typical for people to gain a shoe size or two after they have reached adulthood. As people get older and heavier, the shock absorption systems of the foot tend to wear out and their arches begin to show the strain. As a result of the constant pressure, the arches of the foot flatten or pronate and the foot spreads out, getting both wider and longer.

foot flattens gets longer

So that explains why feet seem to get bigger with age…but why would they shrink?

Well, one reason could be the opposite of the “flat foot” scenario mentioned above. Your feet could be getting shorter because your arches are getting higher.

foot shortens as arch increases

A foot with a really high arch is called a “Cavus” foot. This foot type is somewhat rare, and it causes its own category of problems. Cavus feet are found most frequently in people who have very high muscle tone. In fact, their muscles are too strong – and like a clock that has been wound too tightly, the gears and leavers of the foot begin to jam together. As all the bones of the foot are pulled higher into a tighter arch, the overall length of the foot decreases. (Sometimes this phenomenon is associated with some type of nervous system disorder).

A foot can imitate this Cavus foot type by becoming supinated. If your foot is supinated, it is rolling to the outside – causing you to put more weight on the pinky toe side of your foot.

Here is a (somewhat exaggerated) picture of what that looks like.

supination

Just like a Cavus foot, a supinated foot becomes shorter.

So, your feet could be getting shorter because your arches are getting higher or because you are supinating more than you had in the past. But both of these conditions are fairly rare. The most common reason for a shortened foot length has to do with toe alignment.

In a perfect world, all your toes would point straight ahead like this:

toes

But, as a result of a combination of factors – including faulty genetics and poor shoe fit; many people end up with toes that are crooked and squished together like the foot below.  

Hallux valgus

When the big toe crowds over toward the other toes it is called a Hallux Valgus. A Bunion or bump of bone that sticks out at the base of the big toe is almost always associated with Hallux Valgus. Big toe issues can really mess up your feet – so if you notice this sort of thing starting to happen, it is time to get your feet evaluated by an expert (like a Podiatrist or Pedorthist).

The last reason your feet could be getting shorter is because your toes are starting to get crunched up and curled over. This is called Hammer Toe, Claw Toe or Mallet Toe. Here is what that looks like:

hammer toes

If your toes are doing this, it is often because of two things: either you’ve been wearing your shoes too tight…or you haven’t had enough arch support under your feet. If your body senses that your arches are beginning to collapse or pronate, you will often begin to grip the ground with your toes in effort to stabilize your foot. If you do this long enough, your toes will be stuck in this position.

And we come full circle. It all comes down to support. And good shoe fit.

The moral of the story is: don’t expect your feet to always be the same size. However, if you notice that they are changing more than a size or two – your safest bet is to get them checked out in order to rule out any complications. Don’t take your feet for granted…no matter what size they are.

Walk well.

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