That Time I Got my First Pair of Orthopaedic Shoes

The process of getting your first pair of orthotics from a physio or podiatrist

My grandmother, long gone, was the best person I ever met. She taught me so much. Every day I miss her and thank her for everything she gave me, except, my feet. I remember looking at her gnarly feet thinking, phew, I’m so glad I don’t have those size 11, high-arched, narrow-ankled, wide-balled, hammer-toed clodhoppers. Well, here we are, standing tall on her genes. Now in my Doyenne years, I’m stumbling around uncomfortably, in a suburban Brisbane podiatrist’s office, while a 24-year-old named Jaxon tells me that I need to trade in my entire shoe collection for the world’s most expensive pair of dog-ugly shoes. So, here’s what happens when you get your first orthotic insert and the sad story of my orthopaedic shoe-shopping trip that followed. Brace yourself, it’s a tale filled with discomfort and ugliness….

What to know before you go to the podiatrist

Apparently, I reached my Elder/Crone/Doyenne status without even knowing the basic terminology around orthopaedic shoes. So Jaxon had to explain a few things.

proper orthopaedic shoes have orthotic inserts

Who knew those $29.99 sandals at the pop-up shop at the local Westfield aren’t, medically speaking, proper orthopaedic shoes. While I was imagining myself browsing the kiosks of outer suburb malls, Jaxon was explaining that proper orthopaedic shoes are regular shoes that come with removable insoles. You take out the insole and replace it with an orthotic insert. The orthotic insert is designed especially for your foot. The mall-style orthopaedic shoes simply have a few extra “ridges” and an extra squishy sole. They “feel better” because they’re squishy and comfortable, but they’re not likely to correct any kind of pain associated with clodhopper feet.

after fifty, your feet just give up

Fallen arches, overpronation, bunions, heel spurs, neuroma, plantar fasciitis, arthritis and let’s not forget corns. What’s my beauty secret? Well, I use a “home scalpal” to dig holes in my feet! At 45, my GP told me to see a podiatrist after taking one look at my feet and explaining my brand new left ankle, hip, knee and back pain may not be perimenopause after all, it may be a symptom of those things I’ve got on the ends of my legs. Those things, have enjoyed a rapid decline in the years since. And it’s not just me. It’s a known thing. Your feet are among the first body parts to stage a “walk out” after fifty.

Get ready to sell that kidney you’ve been keeping in reserve

$912.00. Literally, the most expensive pair of shoes I’ve ever bought, by a very, very long way. And I hate them. I dread putting them on. I’m not going to lie, 90% of my previous life was spent in Birkenstocks but I do have a nice little collection of fancy shoes that match my fancy frocks. Those outrageous purple velvet pumps, the cute little red strappy numbers, the hippy but not too hippy chunky sandals, all carefully chosen and perfectly matched, and perfectly uncomfortable to wear. Size 11 clodhoppers aren’t well suited to pointy toes. The first orthotic insert and the first pair of orthopaedic shoes are eye-wateringly expensive and the whole process is mildly depressing. You may want to add a wine budget to the total.

the process for getting your orthotics

Dr. Jaxon will take you into a room and get you to sit in a chair while saying rather unflattering things about your feet. He’ll do some measurements and then get you to do some walking about barefoot. He’ll diagnose you as needing, in my case, a left foot only orthotic. Next, he’ll do a scan of your foot using a mobile phone app (if your podiatrist is named Ray or Helen, it may be an actual machine). He’ll shoot that off to some unknown craftsperson, seemingly handcrafting the orthotic insert out of gold and organic spun silk from a remote cave on Java, judging by the bill you’ll receive after the consultation. He’ll then tell you to return in a few days, with your first pair of orthopaedic shoes for fitting. A few days.

The worst shoe shopping outing of your whole life

Dr. Jaxon gave me a list of places that sell orthopaedic shoes in Brisbane. It wasn’t a long list and many of the places were just pharmacies. I thought, ever aim high, if I’m spending money on this, I’ll get something I like, so I spent my two-hour shoe shopping time allowance at DFO. And this was a big mistake. There’s nothing like the awkwardness of a 17-year-old shop assistant used to selling fabulous pumps to 20-somethings, when asked about old lady orthopaedic shoes. Brisbane DFO has three stores selling orthopaedic shoes. Each store has one to three options. Each option is god-awful. Why tiger print? WHY? Why would anyone want $300 tiger print sneakers? And yet, a plethora of choices…. While I have my eye on the finish line, I still need to go to work (especially with my brand-new ugly shoe habit) so that narrowed the choices down. My only criteria became “suitable for any situation, size 11” and that narrowed all my choices to one…a pair of Frankie4 black Mary Janes. For $300. SIGH.

fitting the orthotic

I then returned to my podiatrist for a fitting. This largely involved him taking my new insert and trimming it to fit inside the orthopaedic shoes. This is where it got worse. The orthotic is bigger than the original insert. So my left shoe became tight and uncomfortable. This is where I was glad I invested in leather. Had I opted for a cheap and cheerful shoe, this would mean starting the process from scratch, where I would need SIZE 12. That’s a trip to the men’s section and the end of my self-esteem. So, once fitted, I took those puppies home and got to work on stretching my lefty to fit. I was diligent, in as much as I put on a wet sock, put the shoe on and watched Netflix while eating pistachio nuts. I mean, I’m ready to put in the work. The shoe now fits.

my refusal to follow podiatrist’s orders to the letter

OK, not going to lie, you will still find me in Birks. You’ll still find me in purple pumps on the rare occasion I am living my best life. While I have been a good sport here, I have invested in myself and my ongoing well-being, I still “cheat”. It’s true, the ankle, hip, knee and back pain has eased somewhat since getting an orthotic insert, but on special occasions, or when Brisbane is just too damn hot for enclosed shoes, I’m still out there in my faves. I know, I’m a terrible patient.

orthopaedic shoe shopping options

With God as my witness, I’ll never orthopaedic shoe shop at DFO again. There are so many options for orthotic shoes online. So many. And some are very, very pretty. And, pretty expensive. SIGH. Some are tiger print because apparently, there’s some correlation between orthotic-wearing women and a passion for fur-inspired footwear. I am sure there’s a study somewhere. It needs to be peer-reviewed. My hot tip here is to search orthotic shoes, not orthopaedic shoes as the orthopaedic search results will take you right back to the mall kiosk where this all began.

Older and Wiser