How to Choose Footwear if You Have Diabetes

Wearing the right type of shoes is the key to avoiding a whole range of unpleasant foot-related diabetes complications – from corns and calluses through to scrapes, blisters and even ulcers. To help you make the right choice next time you’re at the shoe store, we asked podiatrist Lauren Robinson for her expert advice.

What are the footwear shopping essentials?

  1. Get measured up

    “Before you shell out on a new pair of shoes, get your feet professionally measured to make sure you’re wearing the correct size shoe. It’s possible that your shoe size has changed so don’t make assumptions! It’s also important to remember that swelling (a very real possibility for people living with diabetes) will affect your shoe size too.”

  1. Be practical

    “This one is particularly relevant for women. Comfort has to be the watchword – that means no more towering stilettos! High heels put unnecessary pressure on the balls of your feet, increasing the likelihood of calluses and corns. The higher the heel, the greater the risk. A good rule of thumb is if you’re steady on your feet, the shoe should pass the test. Feeling a bit wobbly? Put them back on the shelf.

“It’s also really important to steer clear of footwear that is likely to cause irritation and rub. Tight, strappy sandals are a major culprit and should be avoided. On the other hand, straps can sometimes be a positive as they allow some adjustability which is important for comfort.  If your shoe has straps, make sure they are of the adjustable variety and not likely to rub against your skin.

“It’s also good idea to check the seams before purchasing – irritation often occurs where a shoe seam rubs against the skin. Run your finger around the inside of the shoe to make sure it’s nice and smooth – if you notice any bumpy seams on the inside, it’s not a good choice.”

  1. Go wide

    “You’d be surprised to learn just how many people are walking around in shoes that are too small for them! It’s one of the biggest causes of blisters, corns and calluses – a minor inconvenience for most people but, for people with diabetes, they can lead to more serious wounds like ulcers. Even if you have feet that are naturally narrow, choose shoes that are a comfortable width so there’s no risk of them rubbing on the sides of your feet and creating friction.”

  1. Be kind to your toes

    “If the front of your shoe isn’t deep enough or has a pointed style, you’ll end up with friction as the shoe rubs against your toes, cramming them all together. Round-toe shoes are a much smarter, toe-friendly option. “Open-toe styles are equally problematic. Wearing close-toe shoes year round in an Australian climate isn’t exactly practical, but wherever possible, open-toe shoes should be avoided. Not only does wearing shoe styles like thongs or sandals increase the likelihood of an injury to the delicate toe area, it’s also easier for bits of gravel or dirt to find their way into your shoe and rub against your skin.”

Did you know?  Another complication of diabetes is neuropathy – a condition which can cause loss of feeling and sensation, or at the other end of the spectrum, burning pain. If you have neuropathy and wear open-toe shoes, you may not notice if you injure your foot – a good reason to keep them safe and protected behind close-toed footwear.

  1. Choose natural fibres

    “Shoes made from synthetic materials harbour bacteria – it’s the root cause of many a case of foot odour. But more importantly, if you have diabetes, bacteria in your shoes can cause any cuts or scratches to become infected. That’s why it’s so important to choose natural fibres such as leather which allow your feet to breathe. In warmer weather, choose shoes with an open weave to ensure bacteria doesn’t fester and grow.”

What else can I do to keep my feet in good condition?

It’s not just shoes that can help cushion and protect our feet from wear and tear. Orthotics can also be used as a pressure relief solution, as Lauren explains: “Orthotics are custom foot supports worn inside your shoe which help to offload pressure areas. They’re particularly helpful if you have a bony prominence such as a bunion, or if your foot arch is an awkward shape.

“However it’s important to get orthotics made specifically for your own foot as opposed to buying off the shelf – the wrong shape orthotic can actually cause more rubbing.”

Lauren also suggests gel heels and shock-absorbing foam shoe liners as additional fixes. “Shoe liners are great for people who don’t have much fatty tissue under their feet as they provide an extra layer of cushioning. Diabetic socks with extra padding are also widely available.”

Read more about how a podiatrist can help you manage diabetes.


Lauren Robinson is a Senior Podiatrist with almost 10 years’ experience helping patients manage their diabetes.

She has been engaged by Sanofi to provide regular expert commentary for Diabetes-Care. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the view of Sanofi. 



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