Orthopaedic shoes – What Are They?
Orthopaedic shoes are shoes specially designed to support the foot, ankle and leg. They are often designed with a specific use in mind. Your Orthopaedic consultant will advise you on the requirement for such shoes based on your condition, for example, a person living with cerebral palsy may require orthopaedic shoes.
How are orthopaedic shoes different from regular shoes?
There are certain characteristics and design features of orthopaedic shoes which set them apart from regular shoes. Below we’ve listed a few of the main differences:
- Extra widths and more sizing options
Because people’s feet are all so unique, most orthopaedic brands are available in three main widths (narrow, regular and wide) and almost limitless sizes.
- Taller upper-soles
People who experience forefoot issues like ‘clawed’ or ‘crossed-over toes’ require more vertical space for their feet.
- Easier to fasten
Most orthopaedic shoes favour a hook-and-loop closure system which is easier to tighten for persons living with restricted mobility or functions.
- Seamless upper-soles
Removes areas that might cause rubbing or abrasion.
- A firm and supportive heel
To support the rear of the foot.
- A well cushioned and strong outer-sole and mid-sole
The outer-sole typically has defined ‘impact points’ to absorb the impact of walking.
- A firm sole
Ideally made of Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) which allows you to add ‘wedging’ which lifts the heal of the foot and/or ‘rocker soles’ which are used to reduce pressure on the bottom of the foot.
The benefits of orthopaedic shoes
Orthopaedic shoes can promote the correct growth and development of your posture, help to keep you mobile, comfortable and pain free, and ultimately support you to be happier and healthier. Often an orthopaedic shoe is required to help you change the way you walk, for example, if you put more pressure on your toes than your heal, an orthopaedic shoe can help remove the pain you feel from the added strain when you walk. Modern orthopaedic shoes can actually look really cool, too!
How to know if you need orthopaedic shoes
Often custom or customised orthopaedic shoes are required when you have alignment issues of the foot and ankle (the way the bones and ligaments work together) that gives you pain or effects the way you walk. Your doctor or health care professional may have suggested you start wearing more supportive footwear, such as an orthopaedic shoe. If you have foot-pain, large-feet, wide-feet or very narrow-feet, then a pair of orthopaedic shoes is probably going to be more comfortable and supportive than a regular pair of shoes.
How an orthopaedic shoe works
Orthopaedic shoes are measured and adjusted to fit your foot perfectly. Most orthopaedic shoes work by aligning your feet and ankles. This helps reduce pain or risk of long term injury by creating a more ‘typical’ and efficient walking pattern. Using orthotic insoles with orthopaedic shoes can also help reduce pressure on the heel and the ball of the foot by transferring the weight evenly across the foot. This typically relieves areas that are painful. Orthotic insoles with good arch support play an important role in alleviating stress on the knees, hips and lower back as well as improving foot and leg alignment.
Let’s look at the features of orthopedic shoes and why they are good for your feet.
First, orthopedic shoes offer a wide and deep toe box. Many shoes — especially those designed for women —cram the toes into too narrow a space. The narrow toe boxes of pointy-toed shoes can contribute to painful foot deformities, such as hammertoe, corns, calluses, blisters, claw toe and bunions.
An orthopedic shoe’s round or square toe box should allow you to spread your toes out comfortably in your shoes with a little wiggle room to spare.
Tip: A wide toe box is good for people with hammertoes and bunions.
Orthopedic shoes usually come with removable insoles. This feature enables you to change the size of your shoes according to the swelling of your feet.
Additionally, if your shoes get wet from either weather or perspiration, changing your insoles allows you to keep your shoes dry and comfortable. Dry shoes are an important way of preventing athlete’s foot or other fungal infections of the feet and toenail.
Tip: Removable inserts are good for diabetics and for people who are susceptible to infections.
Most shoes today are simply too flimsy. Heel counters add stability to a shoe. If you press your thumbs against the back of a shoe’s heel and the heel bends inward easily, the shoe does not have a firm heel counter. Look for shoes that resist this pressure with a firm heel construction.
Tip: A firm heel counter is good for people who experience frequent heel pain and who need more stability as they stand or walk.
Contoured foot bed
Shoes should be contoured like the shape of your foot. Try tracing the shape of your foot onto a piece of paper. Now compare that shape with the shape of those painful shoes you have been wearing. Chances are good that you will see a huge difference in the two shapes.
Orthopedic shoes follow the natural shape of your foot and are designed to fit and support your feet in all its curves.
Tip: A contoured foot bed is helpful for people with arthritis and people who have problems with toe crowding.
Did you know that wearing a slight heel can be good for your feet? Research indicates that a heel height of one-half inch to one inch can actually be beneficial for your feet and your back, since they build balance and muscle strength.
You will notice that orthopedic shoes have a slight lift to them. Podiatrists recommend that you avoid both completely flat shoes and high heels for the best gait support.
Tip: A light heel can help people who suffer from bunions.
Many cheaply made shoes have seams and stitches on the inside. By contrast, orthopedic shoes have smooth interiors. Seamless interiors are important for people who have sensitive skin and therefore are susceptible to foot irritation and injury.
Tip: People with diabetes or lymphedema will benefit from a seamless interior.
Orthopedic shoes are made of breathable materials that help wick away moisture and help promote air circulation around the foot.
Avoid synthetic materials and so-called manmade leathers for best breathability.
Tip: Athletes and people who are susceptible to fungal infections will especially benefit from wearing shoes of breathable materials.
The tongue and collar of a shoe are important for comfort. A quality orthopedic shoe will have a soft tongue and collar that will not irritate the foot.
Tip: People with arthritis and diabetes and others who have sensitive skin will appreciate a softly padded shoe tongue and collar.
The right orthopedic shoe can make a huge difference in your quality of life. Here are some additional tips for choosing the right shoes.
1. Measure your feet. Feet change as we age. Do not assume you still know your correct shoe size. Also, usually one foot is larger than the other foot is. Measure both of your feet, and then choose shoes to fit your larger foot.
2. Realize shoe sizes vary in different brands. Try both shoes on and see how they feel, no matter what the size on the label says.
3. Take that tracing of your foot with you when you shop for shoes. Place shoes you are considering on top of the tracing, and if the shapes do not match up, don’t even try on those shoes.
4. Shop for shoes in the afternoon. Your feet expand as the day goes on – especially in hot weather – so you will get the best fit if you wait until late afternoon.
5. Try on shoes with the right socks. Bring along a pair of socks to wear when you try shoes on. Don’t rely on the thin, disposable “footies” many shoe stores offer. They are too thin and therefore will not give you a realistic fit.
6. Stand up and walk around in the shoes. The ideal space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe is a quarter-inch to a half-inch. Wiggle your toes to make sure there is enough room in your toe box. Also, make sure there is enough room for the balls of your feet and that your heels fit snugly (but not tightly) in the shoes.
7. Pay attention to width. Do not convince yourself that tight shoes will stretch or loosen up with wearing. Make sure they fit now. Keep in mind that buying wider shoes will not necessarily solve the problem of ill-fitting shoes.
8. Feel and inspect the interior of the shoe, looking for tags, seams or other possibly irritating materials.
9. Examine the soles of the shoes. Will they protect you against sharp objects, cushion your foot, and offer protection from impact? Try to test out the shoes by walking on both a hard floor as well as a carpeted floor.
10. Realize well-made shoes will cost more than cheaply made shoes. However, you will find that they last longer and therefore are less expensive in the long run.
Do I need to seek professional advice before buying a pair of orthopaedic shoes?
Yes, the right advice can certainly help. While ‘standard’ orthopaedic shoes might be easy to access and order online, there are few guarantees the first pair you choose will be the most supportive for your feet.
An orthopaedic consultant can provide you with further information and advice on what orthopaedic shoes would work best for you and if an orthotic device like an AFO is required. Working with you, a clinician can discuss things like correct posture, how easy it will be to be to put the shoes on and take them off, how stiff the soles should be, the overall weight of the shoe and other small details which ensure your new orthopaedic shoe is a perfect fit.
During a fitting, an orthotist can help you consider the pros and cons of many different orthopaedic shoes and support you to make an informed decision about what would suit you and your lifestyle best. The size of your feet also changes as you grow older, so it’s good to always have your feet measured first before buying a new pair of shoes. Buying an off the shelf orthopaedic shoe might not fit properly and you may have to return them for a different pair.
Bottom line: A poorly fitted pair of orthopaedic shoes can damage your feet or give you little benefit. A quick visit to your Orthopaedic consultant for advice can save you money, time, frustration, and ultimately deliver you a pair of shoes which provide maximum benefit, comfort and support.
Please let us know if you have any questions and do leave a comment
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