For me, shopping for shoes has finally become an experience that I enjoy. It just takes a little more planning, patience, and persistence on my part. What I have now could be considered a shoe shopping strategy, and I’m sure there are many other lower extremity prosthetic users that have developed their own unique approaches. In my life, it’s all about priorities. How bad do I want to wear high heels? How high is good enough for me? Am I more concerned with function or appearance and can I find a way to have the best of both worlds? It’s wonderful right now because we do have so many options in the prosthetic world, and manufacturers are continuing to design prosthetic feet to meet our needs (and the needs of fashionistas everywhere).
When shoe shopping, the most important thing for me is to understand my prosthetic specifications, like prosthetic heel height. Each prosthetic foot is set to a certain heel height, like 3/8”. I always look for shoes under 1” heel height. Usually I can eyeball it, but sometimes I need to actually try the shoes on. Note to self: always bring a nice long, thick metal shoe horn to the store. If I had a nickel for every plastic store-provided shoe horn I’ve cracked, I’d have diamonds on the soles of my shoes. The shoe’s heel height can be deceiving if the sole at the toe of the shoe is either really thick or really thin.
Some online shopping sites, like www.zappos.com, allow you to search for shoes by heel height. This is fabulous because it really narrows your search and saves a lot of time. On this site, you can also search by shoe design, likes sandals with straps. Hooray! Online shopping saves me the hassle of struggling to put shoes on and off in the store. Zappos has free shipping and a great return policy.
I have learned that flatter heeled shoes are not necessarily better. A shoe with a really natural fit and low heel height, like Birkenstock, may even be TOO flat for me. That’s because my prosthetic foot was not designed for a heel height that flat. This makes me feel like I’m falling backwards. In that case, I bring the shoes to my prosthetist to have a small heel wedge glued to the heel of the shoe on my prosthetic side. For me, it’s easier to adjust a shoe that is a little too flat. If a shoe heel height is too high, adding a wedge to the toe portion of the shoe balances it out, but it makes of the overall height of the prosthesis too tall. That’s a recipe for disaster. Aside from adding wedges, I can also have the alignment of my foot adjusted by my prosthetist. The down side of that is, unlike wedges, changing the alignment of the prosthesis is a longer commitment. Those better be some nice shoes.
There are certain prosthetic feet, such as the Runway and Elation, where the heel height is adjustable by the user. This is a really fun option for people who are into shoes in a big way. I find, though, that these adjustable heel height feet are heavier, have less shock absorption, and less energy return than other more functional prosthetic feet. I did really get a kick out of wearing high heels for a year or two. But for my own situation (above the knee amputation with congenital dislocated hips), it wasn’t worth the back pain. So now I stick to my parameters. I stick to a hand full of shoe stores that always have a nice mix of designs, not just a hundred trendy platform shoes that are no use to me. I go online and if I find a pair of shoes I adore, I’m not against buying two pair. I even bought my first pair of winter boots recently. Actually, my mother picked them up for me. She knew what to look for. “Less than one inch heel height,” she told the Clarks store manager. He actually walked around the store with a measuring tape. “Oh, and the boot’s zipper has to go all the way down the side of the boot, to the sole.” Low and behold, I have my boots.