What Is Diabetic Footwear?

The diabetic footwear market keeps expanding. Each year, new diabetic shoe companies arrive on the market, promising they’ve found the perfect healing solution for your suffering feet. 

People with diabetes know they are at risk of developing severe foot conditions. For that reason, they also realize they must take extra care of our feet.

Does that mean you need diabetic footwear? And if yes, what kind of diabetic shoes, diabetic insoles, or diabetic socks are worth a purchase?

Let’s find out!

Walking on the beach bare feet: Not recommended for diabetics with neropathy

How Does Diabetes Affect the Feet?

Most diabetes-related foot problems arise from Diabetic Neuropathy and Peripheral Artery Disease, two severe diabetes complications. High blood sugar levels have damaged your nerves over time; it can cause a decreased sensation in your legs and feet. This decreased sensation and poor blood circulation are responsible for most foot problems among people with diabetes.

Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy 

The most frequent diabetes-related neuropathy is called Peripheral Neuropathy, which generally affects the feet and the legs. Symptoms usually appear after several years of recurrent high blood sugar levels. 

There are a lot of different complications, and they vary from mild to debilitating:

  • Numbness
  • Reduced ability to feel pain or sensation in the feet
  • Reduced ability to feel temperature changes
  • Tingling
  • Burning sensation
  • Pain
  • Cramps
  • Increased sensitivity to touch
  • Loss of balance
  • Charcot’s joint or other joint issues

Peripheral Artery Disease

Another common diabetes complication that affects the feet is  Peripheral Artery Disease. It reduces blood flow in the extremities, causing them to receive less oxygen than needed. This leads to healing difficulties and high risks of infections, ulcers, and gangrene. PAD symptoms include:

  • Painful hip, thigh, or calf muscle cramping
  • Leg numbness 
  • Leg weakness
  • Coldness in the lower leg or foot
  • Wounds on toes or feet that do not heal properly or very slowly
  • Leg’s color changes (sometimes the skin has a ‘shiny’ look)
  • Loss of hair on feet and legs and slower growth of toenails
  • No pulse or weak pulse in legs or feet
  • Sometimes erectile dysfunction in men


Both these lists of diabetic neuropathy and peripheral artery disease signs and symptoms are not exhaustive. Symptoms can vary from one person to another. Most importantly, you’re well aware that feet and legs can be severely affected by diabetic complications. Always watch out for signs, and visit your doctor if you ever notice something different in your feet and legs. And remember, you should examine your feet daily and get a professional foot examination at least once a year, even if you do not have any particular foot problems.

Regular foot exams are a must for people with diabetes.

Common Diabetes-Related Foot Conditions

You are more likely to develop serious foot conditions if you have diabetic neuropathy and peripheral artery disease. But even if you have not developed any diabetes complications yet, the mere fact that you have diabetes and high blood sugar levels puts you at increased risk of developing and aggravating foot problems

These foot conditions vary from superficial blisters to sometimes severe foot and leg problems such as foot ulcers or gangrene and can even lead to lower limb amputation. According to the US National Diabetes Statistics Report (2020), 130,000 adults had lower extremity amputations related to diabetes in 2016.

Almost all of these amputations originated from a common foot problem that has not been well taken care of. 

Here’s a list of the most common diabetes foot problems:

  • Ulcers
  • Feet swelling
  • Diabetic foot pain
  • Calluses
  • Corns
  • Dry feet
  • Infected blisters
  • Athlete’s foot
  • Fungal infections
  • Hammertoes
  • Bent toe
  • Bunions
  • Ingrown toenail infections
  • Gangrene

 

Here’s a much more detailed article on identifying and avoiding these most common diabetes foot problemsWhen you have diabetes, foot care should be an essential part of your daily routine. 

How to Take Care of Diabetic Feet?

If you properly manage your diabetes and keep the HbA1c below 7%, you are not at greater risk of developing nor aggravating foot conditions than a non-diabetic person.

Additionally, even with an elevated HbA1c, you can avoid most diabetes-related foot problems by taking extra care of your feet:

 

Following these five essential rules will significantly lower your risk of severe diabetes-related foot complications. As clearly stated in these guidelines for diabetic foot care, quality footwear is a crucial element when it comes to diabetes foot care. Wearing well-fitted shoes, good quality socks, and cushioning insoles play a significant role in avoiding foot problems.

But does that mean you need to get specialized diabetic footwear? Not necessarily. It depends on your situation.

Do You Need Diabetic Footwear?

Lousy footwear can cost you a lot. Most foot conditions we’ve seen in the previous chapter are caused or aggravated by poor quality or poorly fitted shoes.

Shoes with friction or pressure points create calluses and corns. Hammertoes and bunions can be caused and aggravated by unfitted shoes. Ulcer, fungal and bacterial infections cannot heal if the shoe does not let your feet breathe. Ingrown toenails’ most common cause is pressure from the shoes. 

This does not necessarily mean all diabetic people should buy diabetic shoes. But it does mean that all of us must at least get some good quality, well-fitted footwear. Easy to say, but how do we know if our shoes are good quality and well-fitted? 

Here are a few basic requirements you can rely on, along with the 10 points of proper shoe fit suggested by FootcareMd: 

Now, if you have pre-existing foot conditions or still do not feel good in properly fitted regular shoes, you should look at diabetic footwear. It does make a difference in many cases. 

Diabetic Footwear Vs. Regular Footwear

Diabetic footwear is much more than some comfortable sneakers. It is a professionally designed orthotic device that specifically addresses diabetes-related foot conditions. Suitable diabetic footwear uses forefront technology to promote blood circulation, provide better motion and stability, reduce foot impacts, avoid pressure points, and limit sweating.

Shape, width, fabrics, deepness, posture… each factor is carefully studied to alleviate the specific foot conditions. The most sought-after features for diabetic shoes in comparison to regular shoes are extra-depth, deeper toe box, softer and more stretchable fabric, and extra cushioning of the sole. I bet you already feel the difference if you have hammertoes, bunions, calluses, or feet swelling!

Who Needs Diabetic Footwear?

Diabetic footwear is not for diabetic people. It is for diabetic problems. It is specially designed to address diabetes-related foot conditions and ease the pain they can cause. They are recognized as medical and therapeutical devices, and your medical insurance can even cover their cost.

So, first things first, if you do not have any foot problems, you do not need any specialized diabetic footwear. A good pair of shoes that you’re comfortable in and that do not create pressure points on your feet should be fine. 

Diabetic footwear is particularly recommended in the three following cases:

If you find yourself in one of these three situations, we highly recommend you investigate the diabetic footwear topic more. Let’s see what kind of diabetic footwear would best address your problems.

What Type of Diabetic Footwear is Best for You?

When one hears about diabetic footwear, one immediately thinks of diabetic shoes. But diabetic footwear does not limit to shoes only. Sometimes, orthotic insoles or diabetic socks will do the job for your feet at a much lower cost. They all address different foot problems.

Diabetic Shoes

We’re going, to be honest, here. In 90% of the cases where you need diabetic footwear, we recommend getting yourself some good quality diabetic shoes. They’re just the guarantee your current foot conditions are well taken care of and that new ones will not show up. 

Diabetic shoes consider every little factor that can impact your feet’s comfort: shape, fabric, extra depth, deeper toe box, etc. Plus, they include diabetic insoles! They are usually quite expensive, but it is a worthy investment (mainly if your medical insurance covers them!). You can find good quality diabetic shoes from certified orthotic brands at around $80. You can even get custom molded diabetic shoes that perfectly fit your feet, but they come at a much higher price. 

Diabetic Insoles

If your foot problem isn’t too severe, orthotic insoles for diabetes can sometimes do the job at a much lower cost. Insoles for diabetes, arthritis, and sensitive feet are designed to alleviate pressure on the foot, reduce impact shock and minimize irritation. Prices range from $8 to approximately $30, and here are a few tips on choosing the diabetic insoles that best fit your feet.  

Our opinion is that if you’ve already started to have foot problems, you’ll buy diabetic shoes in the future anyway. But diabetic insoles can help you in the meantime. One thing is sure, though: better get good diabetic insoles than wrong diabetic shoes

Diabetic Socks

Diabetic socks are a different story. They are complementary to diabetic shoes and diabetic insoles and address other foot conditions. 

They have two main jobs: keeping your feet dry and blood flowing. They do so thanks to technical features that regular socks don’t have, such as moisture-wicking materials, antimicrobial components, seamless fabric, extra padding, elastic-free binding, etc. They are especially recommended to people who experience lousy blood circulation, excessive foot sweating, foot swelling, or any fungal or bacterial infection

Just like shoes and insoles, it is not because you have diabetes that you need diabetic socks. If you do not have any of the above problems and feel okay in your regular socks: keep them! As long as they do keep your feet dry. This is important. 

Related article: 

Tips for Buying Good Diabetic Footwear

Now that things are more straightforward and you know what you need, here are a few more things to look at before you buy your new diabetic footwear. First, don’t forget to check if you can get coverage by medical insurance. Then, when choosing, we strongly recommend you get top-quality models from certified orthotic brands. They’re a bit more expensive, but they are medically certified and guaranteed the best for your feet.

Diabetic Footwear and Medical Insurances

It depends on your medical insurance. Wherever you live in the World, most private medical insurance companies provide diabetic footwear’s full or partial coverage when it’s been medically prescribed. Call your insurer and check with the company what coverage you’re entitled to and what paperwork you need to provide.

This applies to you if you live in the USA and are a Medicare beneficiary. In agreement with the 1993 Therapeutic Shoe Bill, Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) provides reimbursement of therapeutic shoes and inserts for people who live with diabetes and meet qualifying requirements.  If you qualify, you can be covered for one pair of custom-molded shoes or one pair of extra-depth shoes per year + additional pairs one inserts. Click here to know if you qualify for Medicare coverage and what steps you need to take.  

Best diabetic footwear brands

There is no point in buying bad-quality diabetic footwear. In that case, you’d be better off with regular shoes. If you’ve decided you need diabetic footwear, go for top quality and certified brands. For two reasons: 

  • First, your insurance will probably only cover your diabetic footwear if it comes from a medically certified brand. 
  • Second, your feet will thank you for that. Poor quality diabetic footwear can be counterproductive and do even more harm to your feet.

 

Many certified orthotic shoe brands offer diabetic shoes and insert models.