Understanding Diabetic Orthotics & Shoes | Diabetic Inserts For Shoes

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Proper footwear is an important part of an overall treatment program for people with diabetes, even for those in the earliest stages of the disease. If there is any evidence of neuropathy, or lack of sensation, wearing the right footwear is crucial. By working with their physician and a footwear professional, such as a certified pedorthist, many patients can prevent serious diabetic foot complications.


Footwear for people with diabetes should achieve the following objectives:

  • Relieve areas of excessive pressure. Any area where there is excessive pressure on the foot can lead to skin breakdown or ulcers. Footwear should help to relieve these high pressure areas, and therefore reduce the occurrence of related problems.
  • Reduce shock and shear. A reduction in the overall amount of vertical pressure, or shock, on the bottom of the foot is desirable, as well as a reduction of horizontal movement of the foot within the shoe, or shear.
  • Accommodate, Stabilize and Support Deformities. Deformities resulting from conditions such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth, fat pad atrophy, hammertoes and amputations must be accommodated. Many deformities need to be stabilized to relieve pain and avoid further destruction. In addition, some deformities may need to be controlled or supported to decrease progression of the deformity.
  • Limit motion of joints. Limiting the motion of certain joints in the foot can often decrease inflammation, relieve pain, and result in a more stable and functional foot.

Choosing the Proper Shoes

If you are in the early stages of diabetes, and have no history of foot problems or any loss of sensation, any properly fitting shoe made of soft materials with a shock absorbing sole may be all that you need. It is also important for patients to learn how to select the right type of shoe in the right size, so that future problems can be prevented. The excessive pressure and friction from the wrong kind of shoes or from poorly fitting shoes can lead to blisters, calluses and foot ulcers, not only in the insensitive foot, but also in feet with no evidence of neuropathy. It is highly recommended that shoe fitting for patients with any loss of sensation be done by a professionally trained shoe fitter or Board Certified Podorthist. People with insensitive feet tend to purchase a shoe that is too tight; the size that "feels" right is often too small.

In achieving proper shoe fit, both the shape and size of the shoe must be considered. You should try to match the shape of the shoe to the shape of your foot. This means that you should be sure your shoes have adequate room in the toe area, over the instep, and across the ball of the foot, and there should be a snug fit around the heel. When considering your correct shoe size, remember that the width is just as important as the length. The proper shoe size is the one where the widest part of the foot, which lies across the foot at the base of the toes, is in the widest part of the shoe. There should also be 3/8 to 1/2 inch between the end of the shoe and the longest toe. In addition, a shoe with laces is recommended to provide the adjustability needed for any swelling or other deformities and to allow the shoe to be fit properly without any danger of slipping off.

Prescription Diabetic Footwear

Many patients with diabetes need special footwear prescribed by a physician. Prescription footwear for patients with diabetes includes:

Healing Shoes

Immediately following surgery or ulcer treatment, some type of shoe may be necessary before a regular shoe can be worn. These include custom sandals (open toe), heat-moldable healing shoes (closed toe), and postoperative shoes. Visit our selection of wound care shoes.

Extra-depth Shoes

The extra-depth shoe is the basis for most footwear prescriptions. It is generally an oxford-type or athletic shoe with an additional 1/4- to 1/2-inch of depth throughout the shoe, allowing extra volume to accommodate any needed inserts or orthoses, as well as deformities commonly associated with a diabetic foot. Extra-depth shoes also tend to be light in weight, have shock-absorbing soles, and come in a wide range of shapes and sizes to accommodate virtually any foot.

External Shoe Modifications

This involves modifying the outside of the shoe in some way, such as modifying the shape of the sole or adding shock-absorbing or stabilizing materials.

Orthoses or Inserts

An orthosis is a removable insole which provides pressure relief and shock absorption. Both pre-made and custom-made orthoses or inserts are commonly prescribed for patients with diabetes, including a special "total contact orthosis," which is made from a model of your foot and offers a high level of comfort and pressure relief. View our selection of pre-made orthotics. Orthotics made from foot imprints without professional gait analysis are generally less expensive then prescribed custom orthotics, but they also provide less precise correction. They provide accommodation for the shape of your foot, but not necessarily the way your foot responds to the specific pressures of walking or running. Whether a pre-made orthotic, a custom orthotic, or a prescribed orthotic is the right choice for you will depend on the severity of your foot condition.

Custom-made Shoes

When extremely severe deformities are present, a custom-made shoe can be constructed from a cast or model of the patient's foot. Theses cases are rare. With extensive modifications of in-depth shoes, even the most severe deformities can usually be accommodated.


Taking good care of your feet means making sure you have the right foot wear. Whether you have been recently diagnosed or have had diabetes for many years, proper footwear can help prevent serious foot problems. Be sure to talk to your physician about the type of shoes, modifications and orthoses that are right for you.

Posted with permission from the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society.

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