Traditionally, orthopedic shoes have gotten a bad rap for being, well, ugly. But they’ve come a long way over the years. Even medical-grade shoes for people with severe deformities, chronic problems, and diabetes are beginning to look more mainstream, says Jacqueline Sutera, a podiatric surgeon at City Podiatry in Manhattan.
For the average person concerned about overall foot health, which affects the entire body from alignment to knee and hip issues, there are more options than ever before that provide stability and comfort without sacrificing style. To help us navigate the myriad brands and styles out there, we spoke to podiatrists like Sutera and John Brummer of Brummer Surgical Podiatry, as well as Michael Schwartz, vice-president at Eneslow, one of Manhattan’s oldest purveyors of orthopedic shoes, about what to look for when choosing the right shoe for you.
The best orthopedic flats
Sutera recommends loafers and Mary Janes as stylish alternatives to the commuter sneaker, from brands like Clarks and Born.
The best heeled orthopedic boots
The best orthopedic pumps
Vionic was started by a podiatrist, and its shoes are engineered for maximum comfort. The American Podiatric Medical Association considers wearing heels over two inches the point at which damage can occur to your feet. So Sutera, who, full disclosure, does consulting work for Vionic, recommends a kitten heel instead. This pair features a foam-padded insole molded with biomechanic contours.
The best clogs
Clogs are not meant for agility, but for people who are on their feet all day. “I wear clogs in the operating room sometimes,” says Brummer. “They alleviate a lot of stress on the foot, and because the heel is heightened, there’s a bit of lift, which decreases strain on the Achilles and relieves tension on the bottom of the foot.” As for wooden clogs, Sutera advises against overusing them: “The hard surface can bruise your feet, wearing them out and causing them to get thinner.” Your best bet is to stick with this Strat favorite, the Dansko clog.
The best orthopedic sandals
All three of our experts are in wide agreement: Birkenstocks are great for your feet. “Birkenstock is doing cutting-edge things for the masses, not just for folks who need orthopedic features for relief or restrengthening muscles,” says Schwartz. They have a solid footbed that makes good contact with your feet and provide good arch support.
Writer Sadie Stein has already sung the praises of the brand L’Amour des Pieds, a brand that Schwartz likes, but here’s another option that has a little more elevation in the wedge, which is often a better foot-health choice for weight distribution than wearing a teetering heel, according to Sutera.
The prettiest orthopedic shoes
One of Schwartz’s favorite brands at Eneslow is BeautiFeel, a company that makes dress shoes that are both functional and “very fashion-forward.” These sandals have a bit of heel, which can feel more comfortable for people with flatter feet.
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