Orthopedic Shoes and Their Benefits/Detriments

Orthopedic Shoes and Their Benefits

Orthopedic shoes serve to help with a wide array of issues the older person faces. They are generally covered by insurance companies as they reduce the risk of many complications that may arise during the aging process. There are different types of orthopedic or therapeutic shoes, including inserts that can improve the quality of life for the elderly person. They may have a few drawbacks or risks in particular scenarios, but by and large, they are a valuable asset to growing older.

The Practical and Not So Practical Role of Shoes

For most people, shoes offer much more than protection from the environment. A study conducted by Advances in Consumer Research found that shoes held the somewhat magical property of “supercharging our athletic performance” and even being “an extension of self… a repository of memory and meaning in our lives.” According to the study and people they surveyed, it was widely accepted that shoes somehow made people feel more beautiful or handsome, confident, happy, and ready to take on greater challenges.

Orthopedic shoes may not make a person feel more beautiful…

Although orthopedic shoes won’t magically make a person more athletically able, they can allow a person to become more agile and surefooted. Orthopedic shoes may not make a person feel more beautiful, especially as they don’t have a reputation for being stylish, but they can make a person feel happier and more confident when walking.

Reducing the Risk of Falls, Trips, and Slips

Aside from comfort measures, reducing the risk of falls is a very large role of orthopedic shoes. The Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development (JRRD) published a study on how footwear can be optimized to prevent falls in older people. Here are some of the key findings of what they found:

  • The higher the heel height, the higher the risk of falling.
  • Extra midsole cushioning impaired balance and caused poor judgment in foot placement, increasing the overall risk of falling.
  • Shoes with thinner soles and low-resilience material were reported to be more comfortable and helped with mechanical stability; however, they did not help with posture or stepping reaction time.
  • Shoes with deep tread were better suited to older people without a shuffling gait, like those with Parkinson’s. While the deep tread helped to reduce slips, there were cases where participants fell because the shoe felt as if it was “sticking” to the floor.

Oxford shoes that provide a beveled heel with tread and a treaded, thin, hard sole went a long way in optimizing foot placement and decreasing the risk of slipping and falling.

Orthopedic Shoes and Diabetic Care 

A decrease in sensitivity contributes to an increase in risk for falls.

Neuropathy is common in half of all diabetes sufferers and as diabetics age, the problem becomes worse. It is characterized as nerve damage and is very common in the feet. This damage is responsible for a number of falls and can cause a significant amount of pain from foot ulcers that form as neuropathy progresses. The older diabetic who has nerve damage will eventually be unaware of ill-fitting shoes until there are multiple ulcers. A decrease in sensitivity contributes to an increase in risk for falls. Older diabetics are always urged to pay close attention to their feet, and proper orthopedics can go a long way in preserving their foot integrity.

A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science in 2015 concluded that diabetic shoes that had a metatarsal bar to reduce foot pressure went a long way to reducing foot lesions/ulcers caused by diabetes and even rheumatoid arthritis. The bar acted as a redistributor of foot pressure by essentially lowering the arch of the foot and thereby reducing pressure points that cause ulcers.

When it comes to orthopedic shoe types, it is best to consult with a physician and possibly a podiatrist for the best recommendations and individual advice. Orthopedic inserts and shoes can be custom made, but there are also many reputable brands helping older people enjoy a higher quality of life even while on a budget.



Belk, Russell W. (2003). Shoes and Self. Advances in Consumer Research, 30:27-33.  Available at http://web.a.ebscohost.com/abstract?direct=true&profile=ehost&scope=site&authtype=crawler&jrnl=00989258&AN=11236506&h=euf%2ft2HycMf05KWMax%2fTgPoipWi8e6iQ%2fx%2f57qIieZOzXmpmgFP81P%2bHzb%2f8kMlQHDb6pebnCwPyDZCc5sr07g%3d%3d&crl=c&resultNs=AdminWebAuth&resultLocal=ErrCrlNotAuth&crlhashurl=login.aspx%3fdirect%3dtrue%26profile%3dehost%26scope%3dsite%26authtype%3dcrawler%26jrnl%3d00989258%26AN%3d11236506. Last Visited February 20, 2016.

Menant, J.C., Steele, J. R., Menz, H.B., Munro, B. J., Lord, S. R. (2008). Optimizing Footwear for Older People at Risk of Falls. Journal of Rehabilitative Research and Development, 45(8): 1167-1182. Department of Veteran Affairs. Available at http://www.rehab.research.va.gov/jour/08/45/8/pdf/menant.pdf. Last Visited February 20, 2016.

Yoon, Se Won. (2015). ). Effect of the Application of a Metatarsal Bar on Pressure in the Metatarsal Bone of the Foot. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27:2143-2146. Available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281340446_Effect_of_the_application_of_a_metatarsal_bar_on_pressure_in_the_metatarsal_bones_of_the_foot. Last Visited February 20, 2016.