“An orthopaedic shoe is an umbrella term used to describe footwear designed to support the feet, ankles and legs,” says Rob Payne, podiatrist and clinical manager at The London Podiatry Centre. “These can either be patient-specific and related to a particular condition, such as cerebral palsy, or generic but with features that may enhance stability and aid gait efficiency.”
Some brands simply offer shoes with features such as contoured footbeds and shock-absorbing midsoles with the aim of all-day comfort and being well-fitted. Conditions such as corns and calluses can be caused by footwear that doesn’t fit properly, and other foot conditions can be seriously exacerbated by it, so it might be time to ditch the pointy heels or ill-fitting, unsupportive trainers.
“Each individual has different needs from footwear,” says Rob. “However, some of the main components we look for include strong rearfoot stability (important in individuals with flat feet/fallen arches or hypermobility, and can be beneficial for those prone to bunions); a wider and deeper toe box (beneficial for people with toe clawing, cross-over deformities or bunions) – trainers tend to provide greater toebox width and depth compared with smarter shoes; a rocker bottom (for people with restrictions in ankle range of motion); or shock absorptive capabilities for individuals with highly arched feet as such foot shapes typically possess more hypomobile foot shapes – this results in localised but heavy pressures, typically on the heel and forefoot.”
“The shape of the front of the shoe should match the shape of your foot,” says Emma McConnachie, spokesperson for the Royal College of Podiatry. “If you have a square forefoot then a pointed shoe is not going to be your friend. A great trick is to draw around your foot on a piece of paper while standing and see how the shape compares to the shoe. The ideal shoe should have at least a thumbnail length between the end of the longest toe (which may not be your big toe) and the end of the shoe.”
Most orthopaedic or supportive shoes have a removable insole, which enables you to insert your own shop-bought or custom-made orthotics. Orthotic technology has come on leaps and bounds. For example, Materialise makes excellent orthotics called “phits” – after a digital gait analysis looking at how you land and roll through when you walk, run and stand to identify where the pressure points are on your feet, the software translates your foot biomechanics into a bespoke insole using a 3D printer. Below, we’ve found the best orthopaedic and supported shoes in a range of styles.
How we tested
We tested these shoes with long walks on different surfaces and we were looking for comfort (both underfoot and in the fit of the shoe), how well the shoe stays on the foot (for example, if you have plantar fasciitis, you don’t want a backless shoe) and whether it provides the support that it claims to.
The best orthopaedic and supportive shoes for 2021 are:
- Best overall – New Balance freshfoam 880v11: £120, Newbalance.co.uk
- Best for smart dressing – Vionic Jolene ankle boot: £77.99, Vionicshoes.co.uk
- Best for active holidays – Keen Astoria west open-toe sandals: £84.99, Kenfootwear.com
- Best for rearfoot stability – Asics gel-kayano 28: £155, Asics.com
- Best for a lightweight boot – Rieker Z4663 ladies black ankle boots: £65, Rieker.co.uk
- Best for off-road walking – Ecco MX W: £110, Ecco.com
- Best for standing for long periods – OOFOS women’s oocloog clog: £60, Oofos.co.uk
- Best for rainy walks – FitFlop wonderwelly: £90, Fitflop.com
New Balance freshfoam 880v11
New Balance’s fresh foam offerings are ridiculously comfortable and this is no exception. It’s a plush, cushioned shoe that excels at shock absorption but still manages to remain responsive. It’s a good choice for running if you don’t need a stability shoe, but our tester with high arches found it ideal for day-to-day wear. The toe box is roomy, the arch support is excellent and the heel cushioning is tangible and comforting, taking the shock out of each step. The insole is removable and the upper is supportive and breathable.
Vionic Jolene ankle boot
Best: For smart dressing
A beautifully designed, wide-fit leather boot that would be at home in the office or with a pair of jeans for a day out. The low, wide heel makes for comfortable all-day wear and a non-slip outsole is a welcome addition that fashion boots usually lack. If you have plantar fasciitis but can’t live without a smart shoe, these are a good option. Like all Vionic shoes, it has a built-in orthotic – it cups the foot perfectly, with great arch support, but it’s removable so that you can insert your own if needed.
Keen Astoria west open-toe sandals
Best: For active holidays
This is an active sandal that’s great for warmer adventures when you don’t want your feet enclosed in a shoe. The soft, neoprene straps are comfortable and the quick-dry webbing makes it great for beach to town as you can get them wet but they dry quickly. It accommodates wide feet and allows for toe splay. If you have high arches, the arch support isn’t as high as some supportive sandals but it’s enough for the average foot. The midsole cushioning makes them forgiving to walk in for decent distances, they’re non-slip and the three straps and backstrap keep it firmly on the foot and give it good adjustability. A slightly elevated heel makes it feel dynamic and sporty as well more flattering than the average trekking sandal.
Asics gel-kayano 28
Best: For rearfoot stability
The ever-popular Kayano has heel support in spades. You can feel it if you simply squeeze the shoe with your hands but, once you’re wearing it, it cups the heel and feels solid and secure without being constrictive. It’s a stability shoe designed to prevent overpronation, where the foot rolls excessively inwards and it’s perfect for people with low arches, flat feet or hypermobile ankles. It combines with a wide toe box (we find that Asics shoes often come up narrow), allowing the toes to splay. The rearfoot and forefoot gel is responsive and provides good shock absorption although it’s not at the plush end of cushioning.
Rieker Z4663 ladies black ankle boots
Best: For a lightweight boot
Rieker specialises in lightweight, shock-absorbing footwear with maximum reflexibility and enough space for your toes. This boot ticks those boxes – it’s very light, with a relatively flexible feel as you roll through the foot, which is great if you want a boot rather than a shoe but struggle with heavier, stiffer versions. It’s zippered on either side, making it very easy to put on and it has an extra-wide fit (although we’d say it was closer to wide). It’s lined with lambswool lining, giving it a cosy feel. The arch support isn’t quite enough for someone with high arches but it has a removable insole so you can insert your own orthotic if this is your issue.
Ecco MX W shoes
Best: For off-road walking
A waterproof trekking shoe with great traction on the sole. It has a slight rocker shape for smooth heel to toe transition, the insole is beautifully cushioned without feeling too cushy and the arch support is sublime. They’re on the narrower side so may not suit those with wide feet. The bootie construction is very comfortable and it’s a lightweight offering compared with many trekking shoes.
Oofos women’s oocloog clog
Best: For standing for long periods
Designed for sports recovery, this clog is the epitome of comfort. The foot is cradled perfectly with superb arch support and the foam is like standing on clouds. Even though it doesn’t have a back strap, the upper comes high over the top of the foot so there was no need for clawing of the toes to keep them on. A slight rocker sole makes for a smooth transition from heel to toe and they are ideal if you are on your feet for hours standing still, as the foam holds its shape to reduce pressure through the foot and joints. Ventilation holes at the side stop them becoming too sweaty. We also liked wearing them around the house instead of slippers, especially after a run.
Best: For rainy walks
The brand known for its super-comfortable shoes designed to promote body alignment has turned its attention to wellies and a significantly more pleasurable-to-wear and supportive boot is the result. If you’re a regular welly wearer, you’ll know how flat and unforgiving they can feel. FitFlop has changed that by contouring the sole to evenly distribute bodyweight and placing “micro springboards” in the forefoot. The toe box is wide, there’s nice arch support and the heel is filled with a honeycomb design to take the shock out of each footstep. The result is a boot that’s comfortable and supportive to walk in. It’s also adjustable around the calf – the design is wide and cinches down to suit everyone but those with the narrowest of calves.
The verdict: Orthopaedic and supportive shoes
The New Balance 880v11 ticks all of the boxes for people looking for arch support and excellent shock absorption. They are next-level comfortable and look good too – even though it’s a running shoe, it slides in just this side of a fashion aesthetic so it can be worn with jeans. The OOFOS clog is blissfully comfortable and great if you find yourself getting sore knees or lower back if you stand for long periods and the Vionic boots are a great supportive pick for those that want a smarter look.
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