Shoe Problems

Ever since I can remember, I recall having shoe problems. It’s always been hard finding the right shoes for my feet with rheumatoid arthritis.

Different kinds of shoes for all walks of life with RA

When I was a kid, I was so proud to learn how to tie my own shoes. However, my ability to bend and reach my feet was short-lived. Luckily, my childhood was also the time of velcro (Thank you NASA!). So when I stopped being able to reach my feet to tie my shoes we switched to velcro and I used a reacher to help fasten and unfasten my sneakers.

Later I used elastic laces and slip on shoes to solve my footwear problem. But to be honest, my options are very limited. Due to having rheumatoid arthritis as a child, my feet really didn’t grow properly. So I have wide, but very short feet. All of the shoes that fit the width are always too long, meaning there’s always a compromise and the goal is about finding the smallest possible trip hazard. It also makes things complicated that some of my toes curl over each other, which means more toe space is preferred. And I also have very limited movement in my ankles, so no heels on my shoes (Basically, any kind of heel makes me even more unstable when I stand!).

When I was a child I also had to contend with a leg brace, which meant finding larger size high-top sneakers that could fit the brace and help to stabilize it for walking. For many years now I have only been able to use custom orthotic shoe inserts, which still required slightly more space but is a lot easier to manage! I used to lament my shoe troubles and while I still find it a bummer at times, I no longer dwell on it too much. First, I was sad about having so few choices and not being able to find shoes for special occasions, like school dances. But then I would see the other girls limping along in their uncomfortable high heels and think that my situation wasn’t so bad—at least my shoes never left me in pain or discomfort. Sure, my rheumatoid arthritis made my feet hurt, but never my choice in shoes.

Then later when I started my professional life, I very much worried about the impression my shoes gave. But I was able to find leather flats that looked classic and allowed my feet the room they needed. Now I wear simple black sneakers with elastic laces and don’t think twice about it. My reasoning: I use a wheelchair and have a hard enough time standing, walking, and transferring with these shoes (which are the best possible option). I don’t need to worry about what others think on top of that. If anyone were to ever ask (and they never have), I would say it is a reasonable accommodation for my disability and dare them to have a problem with that.

The one occasion I really needed different shoes was my wedding day. I did toy with wearing high heels and just staying in my wheelchair. But it was important for me to walk down the aisle and dance with my husband on that day. So my mother helped me find cute white sneakers with velcro closes. I tested them with my orthotics and kept them hidden away until that day. And they worked perfectly! I still keep them, boxed in my closet, (even though I wore them only once) because of the joyful memories they bring me.

So while my feet are not perfect, I have found that it’s possible to get the shoe support I need. It’s taken a lot of patience and a lot of shoe testing, but where there’s a will there is a way.

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