Everyone can benefit from a shoe that fits well. Therapeutic shoes have special features—see what qualifies them as medical treatment for people at risk for foot problems or who already have some damage.
An adjustable closure, such as shoelaces or no-tie straps, can allow for different foot needs, day to day and hour to hour. If you have difficulty tying laces (for example, because of nerve damage in your fingers), a Velcro closure might be best.
2. Wide Toe Box
Pain from squeezing feet into too-small and too-narrow shoes can lead to some ugly side effects. So letting your piggies wiggle will keep them from rubbing against each other and developing deformities.
3. Forgiving Material
Leather and microfiber are two materials that expand, preventing irritating friction if your foot swells. A shoe without some give is a shoe that will cause a blister.
4. Special Foot Bed
Therapeutic shoes typically have a foot bed that is wider and made with shock-absorbing materials. Your podiatrist or other specialist might also suggest a custom insert, which can relieve heel or arch pain, and can take pressure off areas that might be prone to calluses.
5. Fitted By a Professional
Some shoes at your local discount store might meet the criteria of a therapeutic shoe, but your feet should be measured and the shoes fitted by a professional, such as a podiatrist or orthotist. If you have neuropathy, for example, you might not be able to feel how well a shoe does or doesn’t fit. “The goal of the shoe is really to cater to what your specific problems are,” says Crystal Murray Holmes, DPM, assistant professor at the University of Michigan. “You want to be fitted for the shoe [by] someone whose credentials make them a specialist in looking at foot structures, measuring, and deciding what’s appropriate for the shoe.” Specialists can also help you navigate insurance and Medicare coverage for therapeutic shoes.
6. Extra Deep
An extra-deep shoe cradles your foot. Support around your ankle gives you more stability. The extra depth gives foot deformities such as bunions and hammer toes the space they need. A deeper shoe also gives you room for an insert or orthotic.
Who Needs a Special Shoe?
If you have existing foot problems, therapeutic shoes can help you prevent more complications. Medicare (and many other insurance plans) covers the cost of one pair of therapeutic shoes each year for people with diabetes who have at least one of these qualifications: a previous amputation, past ulcers, calluses that could lead to foot ulcers, nerve damage (neuropathy), poor circulation, or a foot deformity.
The layer between the shoe and your foot is important. When you are fitted for your shoes, make sure you wear the same kind of socks you’ll wear with the shoes. Avoid socks that have seams—they can cause rubbing or irritation that can lead to a blister or callus. Socks that fit appropriately are important: Don’t wear socks that cut into your leg or ankle or socks that fall down your ankle and bunch up in your shoe. A breathable material, such as cotton, or a wicking material, such as microfiber, can keep bacteria from forming. And talk to your doctor: You may need a compression sock or stocking, depending on the circulation in your feet or legs.
Look for these healthful features in diabetes-friendly footwear