What are Orthopedic Shoes and Why You Should Wear Them

By Steven Gershman DPM  /  January 30, 2023 Blog Home

To explain what orthopedic shoes are, we should first consider why we need to wear shoes at all. 

The reason, of course, is that shoes protect our feet from objects which may hurt us. They are an important barrier to foot injuries such as punctures, cuts, scrapes, burns and even frostbites.

In addition, Dr. Steven Gershman, DPM, explains that shoes are ״like orthodontia for the teeth. Shoes can also change gait, alignment, and the biomechanics of the foot. 

Looking at pictures of feet in some societies that never wear shoes, you can clearly see feet that look dramatically different than the feet that wear shoes. Without shoes, the toes are separated in a way that looks like a hand.״

What is an orthopedic shoe?

While wearing shoes offers protection and much more, it’s not enough just to wear any pair of shoes. In fact, wearing shoes that are poorly made or shoes with insufficient cushion or support that were designed for fashion but not function and comfort, can do more harm than good.

Orthopedic shoes are footwear designed with special features that support the feet and provide comfort and pain relief. This type of shoe can do wonders not only to your feet, but also ankles, legs and lower back. 

There are many different types of orthopedic shoes. Their design ranges for specific conditions, foot shapes and widths, activities, types of surfaces etc. 

What are the benefits of orthopedic shoes?

Each orthopedic design feature offers different unique benefits. Some features are always important and should be present in any orthopedic shoe (like the ones we have shared below), while others are more specific. 

Arch support

Orthopedic shoes feature orthotic insoles that provide good arch support. The main purpose of the arch support is to eliminate excessive pronation, which affects foot function and is one of the main causes of foot and heel pain.

Orthotic insoles help reduce pressure on the heel and the ball of the foot, by transferring a substantial portion of body weight to the arch. 

In shoes without good arch support, the arch area doesn’t participate in distributing the pressure under the foot. Excessive pronation causes the leg to internally rotate, putting stress on the knee, hip and lower back. 

Orthotic insoles with good arch support play an important role in alleviating stress on the knees, hips and lower back, as well in improving foot and leg alignment.

Shop Orthotic Shoes

Variety of widths

Contrary to most shoes that are designed for the average foot and are available in medium widths, orthopedic shoes are made in a variety of widths to offer a precise fit and accommodate more foot sizes, shapes and problems. 

Most of these shoes are available in medium, wide and extra wide, but you can also find shoes in narrow and extra extra wide sizes.

Extra depth

Orthopedic shoes are constructed on a special shoe last with extra depth, to accommodate thick insoles and orthotics. They also offer a relaxed, comfortable fit, which eliminates pressure points on the foot. A bonus for those that love wearing thick cushioned socks that require more space. 

Wide toe box

A wide toe box offers pressure relief for bunions and hammertoe deformities and allows extra room for toe movement. 

Protective interior

Orthopedic shoes are normally made with a soft, smooth interior, designed to provide gentle contact with the foot and eliminate pressure points. Some are even seam-free, preventing irritation to sensitive feet. 

Stretchable uppers

A stretchable upper design allows the upper area of the shoe to stretch and shape to the contours of the foot, easing pressure on bunions and hammertoes, and eliminating pressure points on the foot. 

Plus, if your feet tend to swell throughout the day, the stretch adjusts itself so it feels like you bought two different shoe sizes! 

Special Soles

Orthopedic shoes are made with lightweight soles and a mild rocker bottom design that soften impacts and help facilitate foot motion. 

In addition, a wide sole design enhances stability while walking.

To summarize, orthopedic shoes offer many advantages compared to ordinary shoes:

  • Help alleviate pain at the heels, feet, knees, hips and lower back.
  • Improve mobility and stability.
  • Provide a better fit.
  • Provide essential protection for those with diabetes, neuropathy and other foot conditions.

When should you wear orthopedic shoes?

The word “orthopedic” is formed from two Greek roots: ortho, which means correct; and pedic, which means foot. Therefore, the two roots together mean “correct foot”, so orthopedic shoes are literally good for your feet by definition!

In other words, wearing orthopedic shoes is highly recommended for people with foot problems - such as hammertoes, bunions, flat feet, arthritis, overpronation, heel pain, plantar fasciitis and more.

But, even if your feet are healthy they will benefit from shoes that were specifically designed to promote biomechanical motion, support and cushion your feet and alleviate or eliminate pain, while preventing future foot conditions.