Healthy and Stylish: Step in the Right Direction with Orthopedic Dress Shoes
Your doctor has recommended that you buy some orthopedic dress shoes to address your foot pain, but what exactly is an orthopedic shoe? The meaning is hidden in its name: Orthopedic comes from the Greek word “ortho,” which can mean “straight,” “upright,” “right” and “correct.”
It also comes from the Greek word “pedo,” which means related to feet. So, “orthopedic” roughly translates to “correct foot.” In other words, orthopedic shoes are designed to support the mechanics and structure of the foot, ankle and leg and to accommodate particular medical conditions such as bunions and hammertoes.
Orthopedic shoes may call to mind large, Velcro-strapped tennis shoes worn by seniors. While these kinds of orthopedic shoes certainly exist—and serve a very important group! — just about every other shoe design is now available in an orthopedic version, including dress shoes.
In this comprehensive guide, we explain reasons to invest in orthopedic shoes, then walk through the steps necessary to try on and choose the perfect pair. Finally, we’ll wrap up by highlighting some of the top orthopedic shoe brands you should look at.
Reasons to Invest in Orthopedic Shoes
You may be wondering why you should invest the time, money and effort to find a pair of orthopedic dress shoes that suit your needs. Here are seven reasons orthopedic shoes are a good investment:
1. They are doctor recommended.
While seniors are more likely to wear orthopedic shoes, doctors recommend them to patients of all ages to help correct foot issues and manage pain. If you’re having foot issues, probably one of the first things your doctor will suggest is examining the shoes you’re wearing and, possibly, replacing them with orthopedic shoes.
2. They are designed to help you walk normally.
Our bodies evolved to walk in a particular way, but wearing the wrong shoes can mess with our walking form and cause all sorts of issues. That’s why orthopedic shoes are designed to promote your natural arch, posture and gait. You’ll notice that the soles of orthopedic shoes are gently rounded and neither too firm not too cushiony: They provide exactly the right amount of support your feet need.
3. They can accommodate specific foot issues.
Sometimes your foot pain has a specific cause, such as bunions and bone spurs. These issues can enlarge and even change the shape of your foot, making it difficult to find shoes that fit, much less improve your symptoms. However, orthopedic shoes were made with these problems in mind, and many accommodate custom orthotics as well, so the sole will be exactly molded to your foot for the best fit possible.
4. They can address sciatica problems.
The sciatic nerve is the main nerve that runs from the base of your spine, through your buttocks and down your legs. If you have pain that runs from your lower back down through these areas, that’s a sign that you might be suffering from sciatica or compression of the sciatic nerve. Depending on the cause of your sciatica, orthopedic shoes can help address your pain by encouraging proper alignment in your leg and shifting pressure off the nerve.
5. They can improve the quality of life for diabetics.
Diabetics are at greater risk for developing foot pain and ulcers because of poor circulation, high blood sugar and possible nerve damage. Properly fitting and supportive footwear is essential for diabetics because they might not always realize when their feet are compromised—nerve damage lessens their feelings of pain and discomfort. Wearing orthopedic shoes can help prevent or treat these complications by providing cushioning and protection for the feet.
6. They can cost much less than surgery.
Orthopedic shoes aren’t the cheapest out there, but they cost much, much less than surgery. Wearing orthopedic shoes can help ease the symptoms of foot issues altogether or, at least, keep existing ones from getting worse. By taking good care of your feet right now, you may be able to postpone or eliminate getting invasive and expensive surgery in the future.
7. They help manage foot pain and preserve your mobility.
Foot problems and the resulting pain and can literally immobilize you. Orthopedic shoes can help address serious issues that significantly impair your mobility and help you get back your ability to move, especially for older adults who may already have compromised mobility for other reasons.
How to Buy Orthopedic Dress Shoes
Now that we’ve convinced you that orthopedic dress shoes are the right choice, how should you go about buying them? Here are nine steps to finding the perfect pair of shoes:
1. Measure your feet.
To correctly measure your feet, lay a ruler or tape measure on the ground. Wearing socks or bare feet, step onto the tape measure and flatten your foot by shifting your weight forward. Make a note of the measurements and repeat again on the other side. Compare your measurements to the size chart for each brand; if you are in between sizes, then size up. Many people have asymmetric feet that aren’t the same size. If this is the case for you, make sure the shoes fit comfortably on your larger foot.
2. Purchase shoes at the end of the day.
Your feet heat up and swell during the day, so you want to make sure your shoes will fit by then. That’s why it’s best to try on shoes in the late afternoon or evening when your feet are at their largest size. Shoes that just barely fit at the beginning of the day may be too tight by nightfall.
3. Try them on with your regular accessories.
A thin pair of socks or a thick pair of socks can make the difference between shoes fitting and not. During try-ons, wear the socks, hose, stockings, or whatever you normally would wear with the shoes. If you use custom orthotics, you should also swap out the soles and try on the inserts with the shoes to make sure they fit.
4. Wiggle your toes.
If you can’t wiggle your toes, the shoes are too tight, period. Round or square-toed shoes will offer the most room in the toe box. Narrow- or pointed-toed shoes provide the least room and can even pinch the front of your foot, aggravating conditions such as bunions and hammertoes in the process.
5. Check the heel and ankle opening.
The toe box isn’t the only area of the shoe you need to check for fit. Make sure that your heel doesn’t slide or rub, and that the ankle opening doesn’t chafe or gap open. It can be hard to assess this when you’re just sitting down or standing still, so get up and walk around to see if your foot is sliding too much in the shoes.
6. Avoid high heels if you can.
Heels make your legs look great, but they’re terrible for your health, especially if you already have foot problems. To that end, avoid high heels if at all possible. If you must wear heels for work, look for shoes with a wide toe box and a low heel (one inch or lower). The wide toe box is important because heels push your feet toward the front of the shoe, and you want enough room to move around.
7. Decide on fit and feel, not size.
Sizes aren’t standardized across brands, which is why it’s important to reference each company’s size chart. Even so, once you try on your “true” size by the number, the shoes still might not fit exactly—perhaps they run small or large, meaning you’ll need to size up or down. Rather than obsessing about the number, focus on whether or not the shoes fit well and feel good.
8. Make sure they are comfortable from the get-go.
We’ve all bought that one pair of really cute shoes that was just a little too tight or a little uncomfortable and told ourselves that “we’ll break them in.” While this thought may be soothing at the moment, it’s largely a myth, especially for orthopedic dress shoes. The shoes should be comfortable and fit well the instant you put them on—don’t depend on breaking them in.
9. Don’t shop by price alone.
It can be tempting to buy the cheapest pair of shoes or to head straight for the sales rack—after all, aren’t all orthopedic shoes basically the same? They’re not: Each brand has its own approach to constructing shoes and molding the soles, and each style will fit differently on your foot.
If you shop by price alone, you’ll likely end up with a pair of shoes that doesn’t match all your criteria. Orthopedic dress shoes are an investment, but they’ll pay off handsomely if you choose the right pair.
Popular Orthopedic Dress Shoe Brands
If you’re new to shopping for orthopedic shoes, or haven’t bought them in a while, all the options can feel overwhelming. To help you out, below we’ve highlighted some of the most popular orthopedic shoe brands that are worth your consideration:
As the name suggests, Apex is on a mission to offer the absolute best in foot health products today. Its shoes are designed by a team of doctors and pedorthists to provide comfort and protection for people with diabetes, arthritis, or other painful foot conditions. Apex makes adjustable, durable orthopedic tennis for both men and women, as well as some work-appropriate dress shoes for men.
The name says it all: Dr. Comfort shoes are seriously comfortable. Since 2002, the company has been bringing quality, comfort, and style to the diabetic shoe industry. Not only are their shoes designed with input from board-certified podiatrists, but they’re also approved by the American Podiatric Medical Association. Dr. Comfort makes a wide variety of styles for both men and women, including sandals, slip-ons, house shoes, heels, tennis shoes and, of course, dress shoes.
Propet has been making some of the world’s most comfortable shoes since 1985, so the brand’s products reflect nearly 35 years of experience and design expertise. The brand offers a wide range of sizes and widths, so they’re worth a look if you have hard-to-fit feet or foot ailments that you need to accommodate. Propet makes several different styles of shoes, from soft house slippers to sturdy winter boots.
This women’s footwear brand knows that no two feet are the same, which is why its shoes are designed with innovative strap extensions that provide the ability to personalize the fit of your sandals. The shoes also feature a thoughtful design element to add some fashionable touches to the shoes, including perforated leather, snakeskin patterns, understated buckles and more. Revere makes several different kinds of women’s orthopedic dress shoes, including sandals, ballet flats, slip-ons and boots.
If you’re shopping for a pair of orthopedic dress shoes—or, really, any kind of shoe—this ultimate guide will help you make the best decision. Don’t forget to measure your feet and check each brand’s size chart before you go shopping or place your online order. If you decide to order your orthopedic dress shoes from Ames Walker, we offer a knowledgeable staff and an excellent return/exchange policy to make sure you’re totally happy with your purchase.
Kaki Zell - Vice President of Sales, Marketing, eCommerce at Legs-4-Life LLC
Kaki holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She’s been working in the medical device industry over 11 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greensboro Science Center.
Written March 2019 | Page last updated November 2021
RxList. “Medical Definition of Ortho- Prefix” https://www.rxlist.com/ortho-_prefix/definition.htm