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Published: Nov 16, 2012 3 min read

Recurring foot pain, a sign of ill-fitting shoes, and a red flag for a foot problem that could develop into something more serious.

1. Pay attention to everyday aches

Nearly 80% of people ages 21 and older have had a foot problem, according to a survey from the Institute for Preventive Foot Health.

Anything from improper shoes to high-impact exercise can trigger a condition. To avoid injury, take discomfort seriously.

Even seemingly minor issues, such as sore feet or bunions, can worsen and ultimately require costly surgery if left unchecked, says Dr. James Christina, of the American Podiatric Medical Association.

2. Fewer pounds mean happier feet

The institute also found that very obese people are 41% more likely to have a current foot issue and 16% more likely to have pain. No wonder: Walking puts up to three times your body weight on your feet with every step, says the group's executive director, Robert Thompson.

Losing even a few pounds can reduce that wear and tear and may help shrink your risk of diabetes, which can cause foot pain from decreased circulation and nerve damage.

3. Good shoes are essential

Ill-fitting footwear is one of the biggest causes of problems. Look for a pair with a wide toe box, ankle support, and a firm grip on your heel.

Your foot extends when you walk, says Thompson, so pick a size that leaves a third to half an inch beyond the tip of your toes when you stand. He also suggests skipping cheaper brands, which sometimes use a sole that's too small for the shoe, leaving wearers with wider feet unsupported.

4. Expensive orthotics may be overkill

Custom-fitted orthotics, which are worn inside shoes, can easily cost $300 to $500 - and are not often covered by insurance.

While serious athletes and people with foot abnormalities may need to spring for customized inserts, those who just need extra cushioning and support should stick with the $30-to-$50 off-the-shelf insoles available at running stores, says Dr. Steven Weinfeld, chief of foot and ankle surgery at Mount Sinai's School of Medicine.

5. The right doctor will save your money

Whether you should see a podiatrist or an orthopedist depends on your condition.

In general, a podiatrist is the best bet for minor problems and for surgeries to correct chronic issues like hammertoes. Orthopedists are surgical specialists often recommended for breaks and other sudden injuries (they also tend to be more expensive).

Still not sure which doctor to see? Get an opinion from both types and compare treatments and prices.