A person with diabetes who does not have optimal control of their blood glucose (sugar) levels could have severe consequences in various parts of their body. One of the most affected areas is the blood vessels leading to the feet. Wearing diabetic shoes helps protect the foot, but what is the difference between diabetic shoes and regular shoes?
Diabetic or orthopedic shoes have greater depth and width than regular shoes. They are designed for special inserts that help reduce pressure on the heel, and may have a larger toe box. Unlike regular shoes, they have no seams or tags on the inside, are comparatively lighter in weight, and are designed to wick moisture.
When blood glucose levels are chronically out of your target range, many parts of your body will be affected, including your legs and feet. If proper foot care is not observed, amputation of a limb is a potential result.
When caring for your feet, it is important to wear the right shoes. You may have been told to wear diabetic shoes, but what is the difference between a diabetic shoe and a regular shoe?
What is a Diabetic Shoe?
The diabetic shoe (orthotic shoe) is a shoe designed exclusively for people who have diabetes. This type of shoe helps control some of the symptoms of diabetes, and protects the foot from the collateral problems of this disease.
The shoe’s fit has a compression stocking effect to help the proper circulation of blood and the damaged nerves. As mentioned above, a diabetic shoe may have a larger toe box for more room, has a more comforting sole for the heel, and is designed to keep your feet dry.
The diabetic shoe is breathable with greater depth, and the design prevents your foot from sliding around in the shoe. These features provide comfort, prevent ulcers and wounds, and promote circulation.
Diabetic Shoes vs Regular Shoes
Many people are not clear about the differences between diabetic shoes and regular shoes or why they should wear these specialized shoes.
- Diabetic shoes have extra width and depth vs. regular shoes. This allows space for insertion of therapeutic or orthopedic insoles.
- Diabetic shoes may have a larger toe box. The forward tip of the shoe provides additional space for protection of the toes and to avoid crowding.
- Diabetic shoes have an inner softer, protective layer. This covers the seams and stitches to reduce irritation and help prevent blisters and sores.
- Diabetic shoes have a cushioned heel cup. This helps reduce the impact on the foot when moving. It also helps keep the foot stay in place to prevent slippage.
- Diabetic shoes have padding. The area around the ankle and on the tongue of the shoe have padding to help maintain foot stability, protect the ankle from twisting, and provide a snug fit that does not cause abrasions.
- Diabetic shoes have a non-binding, stretchable, upper portion of the shoe. This makes it easier for the shoe to conform to the shape of your foot. This helps avoid bunions and relieve pressure.
Do I Need a Prescription for my Diabetic Shoes?
An orthopedic evaluation may occur, or you may visit a credible facility where a professional will help you find the right shoe.
Due to the specific features of the diabetic shoe design, you will need a medical provider’s prescription for diabetic shoes. You will need to be fitted by a trained professional for your individual needs.
In order to give you a better idea of what occurs, I consulted with Carrie Harris, the owner of Diabetic & Comfort Shoes in Duluth Minnesota. Her staff includes a Board Certified Pedorthist (C-Ped), a Board Certified Prosthetist (CP), and a Board Certified Fitter, all trained in orthotic devices.
The certified staff will take measurements and provide inserts that will best meet your needs. If a foot has a deformity, they will take a heated, plastic mold of the foot and create a custom shoe.
Why Should a Person with Diabetes Avoid Wearing Regular Shoes?
A regular, conventional shoe is not designed to keep your foot from moving around in your shoe. Think about the time you got new shoes, and you had painful feet because of blisters and calluses. You may have been told, “You just need to break them in.”
If a person with diabetes gets a wound from a regular shoe, they may not feel pain due to neuropathy. It may be out of sight, where it goes unnoticed, or it could be missed because checking the feet was neglected.
Diabetic shoes have a unique fit that promotes circulation and makes corns and blisters less likely to occur. They are sometimes roomier in the toe, which keeps the foot from slipping inside the shoe, thus preventing injury.
If you have existing problems or discomfort in your feet due to diabetes, corns and blisters will only worsen your condition. For these reasons, if you have diabetes, it might be in your best interest to stop wearing regular shoes, as they can cause damage to your feet.
You may notice changes in your feet, or your endocrinologist may notice differences during your foot checks. He or she may decide to refer you to an orthopedic specialist. If you have concerns, don’t be afraid to ask.
Do I Need to Wear Diabetic Socks with my Diabetic Shoes?
Diabetic socks and diabetic shoes are a complementary pair for maintenance of the health of the feet. The primary purpose for specialty designed socks for diabetics is to protect the feet from getting blisters and wounds.
Some of the characteristics that socks for diabetics should have are:
- They should not restrict the foot.
- They help promote blood circulation.
- They should not have rigid elastic.
- The material of the stocking should wick moisture to keep the foot dry.
- Diabetic socks do not have seams.
- Do not use compression stockings as they are different from diabetic socks and serve another purpose.
- The sock has padding along the entire length of the sole for foot protection.
Are Diabetic Shoes Covered by Insurance?
Diabetes shoes are covered by Medicare and most insurances. Medicare will help with the cost of diabetic shoes and supplies, as well as reimburse for diabetic shoes.
Medicare will pay a portion of the cost of your diabetic shoes under Part B. This includes both the fitting and the shoes each calendar year. Medicare will also pay for modifications to your shoes.
With Medicare and other insurances, you may still be responsible for a portion of the bill (copays, deductibles, coinsurance).
You can check out medicare coverage of diabetic shoes to find out what they cover for diabetic shoes.
Can Anyone Buy Diabetic Shoes?
Diabetic shoes must be prescribed by:
- Podiatrist – foot doctor or specialist of the feet
- Orthotist – specialist that deals with mechanical devices to support or supplement abnormal joints or limbs
- Prosthetist – expert who supplies artificial limbs for missing parts of the body
- Pedorthist – footwear specialist
- Another qualified individual
You will not be able to walk in off of the street and buy a pair of diabetic or orthotic shoes.
How Much do Diabetic Shoes Cost?
Carrie from Diabetic and Comfort shoes tells me that they really aren’t much more expensive than brand name shoes. SOREL and ecco brand shoes cost more than a diabetic shoe.
For comparison, I spoke to another specialist from a second local outlet. Mary, from Tortoise and Hare, tells me that the diabetic shoes sell for $130-$140.
Where Can I Get Diabetic Shoes?
Diabetic shoes can be purchased from designated shoe factory outlets, where a prescription will be required.
“Diabetic shoes” can also be found online. These will not require a doctor’s prescription. Many of them have the features of diabetic shoes (increased depth, increased width, cushion support, breathable), but they may not be an exact fit for you.
Your insurance will not pay for diabetic shoes purchased on the internet.
Are There Different Styles of Diabetic Shoes?
Some of you may recall a time in your life when you would notice people with larger, taller, and wider shoes. It looked like a special style that was designed for someone with different needs. It is likely that this was a diabetic shoe.
Over time, styles of all kinds have changed and improved for the better. Carrie Harris from Diabetes and Comfort Shoes states, “You can’t even tell the difference anymore.” She also tells me that in addition to shoes, you are also able to find boots, sandals, and other styles of footwear.
Just because you have diabetes, doesn’t mean you have to wear diabetic shoes. Many people who stand on their feet all day will purchase ergonomically-friendly footwear, for the sake of comfort.
On a personal note, I have purchased orthotic shoes from Orthofeet for other reasons. They were very stylish and amazingly comfortable.
Keep in mind that your insurance well not cover the cost of footwear that you find on the internet. If you have insurance that will cover the cast of your shoes and inserts, get your medical prescription and take advantage of it. I don’t think you will be disappointed.