Buying shoes!

For many, shoe shopping is one of life’s pleasures, but for those with swollen feet, the thought of shopping for footwear fills them with dread and may not be such an enjoyable experience. Moreover, it can be difficult, stressful and possibly embarrassing. Calf oedema (or swelling) can make wearing boots near impossible, and it can be disappointing not to wear the types of shoes and boots that others do. However, wearing something on our feet is not just a fashion statement, it is totally necessary. So how can this be made easier?

Fashionable footwear is perhaps an indulgence. However, good fitting, supportive footwear is necessary to help maintain the shape of the foot and ensure the intricate bones of the foot and ankle are kept in alignment. Footwear also enables good use of the muscle pump in the calf, which is known to assist lymphatic drainage. Ill-fitting shoes and boots can compromise the lymphatic function, making the oedema worse and causing the foot to misshapen. This, in turn, may cause the shoes to cut into the tissues in the foot, causing blisters, sores and possibly infection. All in all, finding correct footwear is paramount to support daily activity and help prevent additional complications of oedema.

So, how do you ensure that you select an appropriate style and size of footwear?

  • Consider the time of day that you try on shoes, as your swelling may alter throughout the day. It is probably best to be measured in the middle of the day to get the most suitable fit
  • If you have been prescribed compression garments (sometimes known as hosiery or stockings) and/or orthotics, make sure you wear them when trying on footwear. Your compression garment can help maintain the shape of your foot and will influence your choice of footwear
  • There may be a difference between the size of the right and left foot. Look for manufacturers who design footwear for swollen feet, using extra wide fittings and several layers of innersoles to achieve variable depth options
  • Adjustable fastenings, such as touch fastenings or hook-and-loop fasteners, can be useful to accommodate variations in swelling throughout the day. They are also helpful if you are unable to bend forwards to do up laces or buckles. Laced styles are good as the tightness can be adjusted accordingly. Even lacing in a different pattern/way may help with the fit
  • Having fastenings that open-up near to the toes will assist with getting the foot into the shoe or boot, limiting chaffing or trauma
  • Strap extensions are available from shoe repairers and shoe shops. These can be used to lengthen the straps on some footwear, again giving flexibility to the fit
  • Avoid styles with lots of seams, especially around the toes and heel as these may rub the skin, causing irritation and sores
  • Be aware of styles with a strap across the instep. They may be easy to get on but may be troublesome if the swelling bulges above and below the strap, causing discomfort and misshaping
  • Consider the height of the heel. Lower heels of no more than 4cms provide stability when walking, and are ideal if you are prone to falling
  • Choose a sole that gives cushioning, with good grip to prevent slipping
  • Experiment with different fabrics. Although leather is breathable and hardwearing, it is not very forgiving and may not accommodate changes in your swelling. There are some very good man-made fabrics, such as elastane, which are comfortable, kind to the skin, and provide a little ‘give’ if your foot alters in shape and size
  • If you are having trouble finding footwear, do not be tempted to settle for wearing flip-flops or mules. They do not support the foot at all and, as the foot is exposed, there is a greater chance of injury to the skin and risk of infection. If worn in winter months, chaffing and frostbite are possible
  • Buying shoes on the high street may be difficult, especially if feet are different sizes and vary in size during the day. There are some outlets which sell odd size shoes, which is helpful especially for those with swelling just in one foot/leg. There is likely an extra charge for this service, but it is much cheaper than buying two pairs of different size shoes
  • Made-to-measure footwear is an option but can be costly in comparison with buying off-the-shelf shoes. There are several companies that offer this service, and some have shops that you can visit rather than buying online. 
  • For certain medical conditions, footwear can be VAT exempt. Your doctor or healthcare professional may be able to refer you to the hospital appliance department for prescribed, ready-made or made-to-measure footwear

Remember, if you are having trouble walking, request to be referred to an orthotist. Having swollen feet can be painful and cause alterations to the way you walk. This may cause stress to your joints. An orthotist will assess the way you walk, and may recommend innersoles to correct your posture, and advise on suitable footwear too.

Hopefully, these tips will make your experience of buying footwear easier. Manufacturers are gradually designing more desirable, practical footwear to accommodate the growing population who have swollen feet. Shop around, you may be surprised by what’s available! If you have any tips or advice on this subject, feel free to share it in the LymphConnect® forum – there is a conversation under ‘Living with lymphoedema’. We are sure others would benefit from hearing about your shoe shopping experiences.

Note: It is important to speak to your healthcare professional if you have any concerns regarding your foot swelling, general foot health and the fitting of your footwear.

Your support - register here to share your lymphoedema experiences, stories and top tips.