Springtime Sandal Shopping

As the weather heats up, I’m once again facing the challenge of shoe shopping. While buying shoes is a favorite activity for many women, those of us with rheumatoid arthritis often find this to be a daunting task, as finding footwear options that are comfortable on our foot joints, supportive of the rest of our body, and at least somewhat attractive are few and far between. I found a great pair of Earth shoes for fall/winter that is so comfortable I purchased a second pair in order to have them in both brown and black. However, while they are attractive enough with pants, they would look horrible with dresses or shorts. With this season change, I’ve realized how worn out the few comfortable pairs of sandals I own are. Therefore, I’ve headed to my computer for another intense session of shoe buying.

What makes sandals RA-friendly?

As I search for sandals, there are so many factors to consider. They need to be wide enough to avoid putting pressure on tender, swollen toe and foot joints, but close-fitting enough to prevent the foot from sliding within the shoe. Flip-flops are the epitome of foot comfort for many people, but not for me. While I do own some pairs that I use for walking out in the yard or running a quick errand in, if I wear flip flops for more than a couple of hours I start to feel an increase of pain in my toes and ankles, as my joints have to work to keep these open air shoes on. Even with sandals that provide more support than flip-flops, the absence of a heel strap can put additional strain on my feet. While there are many adorable sandals with heels that I long for, I don’t even consider buying them because wearing shoes with anything but a very low heel quickly inflames my toes, knees and hips.

Some RA-friendly sandal options

Fortunately, I live in the age of online shopping, which provides infinitely more options than any shoe store. Over time, I’ve learned to shop only at companies that have excellent search features as well as free shipping both ways. The ability to narrow my search with selections such as low- or no-heel, “comfort,” “active,” and “sling back” is extremely helpful. While an online shoe company may offer thousands of adorable sandals, the majority of them wouldn’t feel good to walk around the room in, much less wear all day. By entering search terms I am able to decimate the options, making for a reasonable browsing session. While this may get me down to a thousand pairs, there’s still much culling to do to find prospective purchases. There are many sandals designed for people with foot problems or for outdoor activities, but these are often bulky and either not attractive with sundresses and skirts or just not attractive at all. I have RA, but I still have a sense of style, and my ego protests when I look at some of the shoes that would likely be comfortable. Therefore, finding a pair of comfortable and at least moderately cute shoes is my personal holy grail. That’s where the importance of the “free shipping both ways” feature comes in. I can order a dozen (or more!) pairs of shoes at a time, and return all the ones that aren’t comfortable or that are uglier out of the box than they were on the computer screen. Coming from a family of environmentalists, some of my relatives might disapprove of the fuel wasted on shipping huge orders of shoes to and from my residence. However, I admit that finding shoes that don’t increase the daily pain I experience outweighs my ecological concerns.

This season, I’ve been happy to find some options that include adjustable straps or elastic. Such features not only enable me to adjust the shoes to provide the most support, but also allow for some give when my toes or ankles are swollen. While I have yet to find my “BFF” shoe company, a few brands that are at least RA-friendly include Softwalk, Naot, Born, Clarks, Ecco, Keen, and Merrill. I used to own many pairs of Earth shoes, as the negative heel took a lot of pressure off my painful toe joints; however, it seems the company no longer makes many negative-heel options. I’m hoping that the giant online order of sandals I just placed will lead to at least a pair or two of keepers. Being able to wear cute shoes that are comfortable for my joints as well as for the rising temperatures helps me feel as footloose and fancy free as a gal with RA can be.

Have you found RA-friendly shoes? What are your favorite brands or preferred shoe features?

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