So your podiatrist told you to consider orthopedic shoes…
But what are orthopedic shoes really? Are they so much better than regular shoes? What sets them apart from everyday running or walking shoes?
In this article, we’ll look at orthopedic shoes, their features, and their benefits so you can decide if they’re what you need.
What Are Orthopedic Shoes?
Orthopedic shoes are specially designed shoes that cater to people with foot conditions, foot abnormalities, or foot deformities.
They work to improve the foot’s biomechanics, keeping the joints of the foot and ankle aligned for better range of motion, reduced pain, and to improve the effect of custom orthotic devices.
Many orthopedic shoes are Medicare-approved and have received the APMA—American Podiatric Medical Association—Seal of Acceptance. This means they’ve been approved as a shoe beneficial for foot health and good for your feet.
Who Wears Orthopedic Shoes?
Orthopedic shoes are suitable for a very vast range of people. Anybody who suffers from chronic foot pain or has a foot condition that changes the biomechanics of their feet can benefit from orthopedic shoes.
Many people of all ages and health conditions can wear these types of shoes. Even athletes can wear orthopedic shoes, and they often come in athletic varieties.
Shoes are not the only type of footwear that can be classified as orthopedic, too. Shoe brands also make orthopedic sandals and orthopedic slippers.
What Features Do They Have?
With an excellent understanding of the biomechanics of the foot, podiatrists often design the footbeds in orthopedic shoes.
You’ll find a contoured, biomechanically-designed footbed that offers excellent support for the arch. It encourages the foot to remain in proper alignment, reducing unnecessary pressure on the foot and ankle joints.
Orthopedic shoes often have extra cushioning in the heel for shock absorption.
But they’ll also often have more cushioning in the forefoot. Every part of your foot is supported and protected from impact.
Plus, the high cushioning makes the shoe much more comfortable.
Arch support is vital in orthopedic shoes. It will usually be full-contact arch support, designed specifically for low, medium, or high arches.
This support helps relieve pressure and tension under the arch, especially in the plantar fascia, which can ease foot pain from plantar fasciitis and other conditions.
Firm arch support will also encourage an even distribution of bodyweight, reducing unnecessary pressure on certain parts of the feet.
A heel seat, or deep heel cup, will help keep your foot in one position and prevent it from sliding around as you walk.
It will also stabilize your foot and prevent overpronation or supination. It often works together with the arch support to keep the foot aligned.
In some shoes, they will use a heel counter, which can be internal or external. It’s a dense piece of material that wraps around the back of the heel and keeps it firmly in place.
A soft, luxurious in-shoe feeling will help to reduce chafing and pressure points. Your feet should be comfortable and there shouldn’t be any hotspots.
Orthopedic shoes often come in a variety of widths and different sizes. You’ll be able to find the right size shoe for your feet, both in length and in width.
The midsole of an orthopedic shoe is often a little more firm than it is soft. While some softness increases comfort, the firmness provides better support and shock absorption.
A seamless upper also helps prevent pressure points that could worsen foot pain or cause new pain to develop.
For those with neuropathy who can’t feel their feet, a seamless upper reduces the chances of developing sores or blisters.
What Are the Health Benefits of Orthopedic Shoes?
Reduced Foot Pain
As orthopedic shoes gently realign the joints and bones of the foot, they help reduce pressure on the foot and ease pain where there may have been pressure before.
Orthopedic shoes provide excellent arch support, as well as impact-absorbing cushioning for stability and comfort.
However, you will still need to ensure that you get shoes with the correct type of arch support for your feet.
Correct Foot Problems
Many foot problems and conditions occur due to the foot being out of alignment. But by simply having the foot in the proper position, it can be corrected.
Orthopedic shoes help to realign the bones and joints of the foot so that they rest in the correct positions, easing pressure and pain and possibly even eliminating foot conditions that were present before.
Improved alignment and a proper fit allow for better blood flow through the foot, which helps the foot to heal faster and reduces pain and inflammation.
Your range of motion will likely increase when the foot can move within its natural alignment. Improved blood flow will also help the foot muscles be healthier and move better.
Easy to Fasten
Orthopedic shoes often come with handy fasteners that aren’t as complicated as laces. It’s ideal for those who have difficulty using their fingers to tie shoelaces or can’t bend over for long enough.
Many shoes will use hook-and-loop Velcro straps, which can still get a good lockdown but also allow more space in the shoe for swollen feet.
What Is the APMA Seal of Acceptance?
The APMA Seal of Acceptance is a title awarded to shoes that have been certified as beneficial for foot health.
APMA stands for the American Podiatric Medical Association, and they are the world’s top resource for foot health information and tips.
The Seal of Acceptance awards shoes that meet their foot health standards, promote correct alignment and gait, and reduce foot and leg pain.
Signs You Need Orthopedic Shoes
You should consider investing in orthopedic shoes if you have one or more of the following problems:
Foot Pain or Swelling
Pain or swelling in the feet could indicate your foot is out of alignment, often caused by wearing the incorrect shoes for your foot.
Choosing orthopedic shoes can help realign your foot and take strain off areas that might have been under pressure in non-orthopedic shoes.
Flat Feet or High Arches
Both flat feet—low arches—and high arches can be susceptible to excessive pronation if they aren’t well supported.
Overpronation and supination can place unnecessary pressure on the structure of your foot. It often leads to inflammation, swelling, and possibly even worse injuries.
It’s key to choose a shoe that offers the right kind of support for your specific arch. This will keep the foot optimally aligned and reduce the chance of injury or aching.
If you constantly lose your balance or struggle with your posture, your shoes could be part of the problem.
Making sure that your feet are correctly aligned and your ankles have enough support may help you correct your balance problems.
Lower Limb Injury
If you’ve had an injury to your lower leg, ankle, or foot, you may have a muscle imbalance or a muscle weakness, which can lead to pain, inflammation, or using your good side to compensate for the weak one.
Using orthopedic shoes can help reduce pressure on the injured leg, allowing it the space to heal as you take steps to balance your muscles again.
Diabetic Foot Complications
Those who have diabetes may find that they lose feeling in their feet. This is a common side effect of severe diabetes, and it can often lead to sores developing on the feet as the skin rubs on the inner of the shoe.
Orthopedic shoes have a soft, non-chafing inner, designed to prevent this from happening. You won’t find seams or rough material, so they’re ideal for people who can’t feel their own feet.
What Is the Difference Between Orthotics and Orthopedic Shoes?
Orthotics are inserts that can be placed into any pair of shoes, either on top of the existing insole or, more commonly, after removing the existing insole.
There are two kinds of orthotics. Over-the-counter orthotics are purchased online or in a store. And custom orthotics designed by a podiatrist specifically for your gait.
Over-the-counter orthotics come in many styles, so you can choose one that’s specific to your arch type and the amount of cushioning you want.
You’ll have less say with a podiatrist, who crafts each orthotic based on what they think is best for you.
With both, you take out your shoe’s insole and replace it with the orthotic for more support and cushioning.
Orthotics can definitely help relieve foot pain. But orthopedic shoes are a better choice for more severe foot problems, as they cater to the entire foot, from toes to ankle.