One thing that is guaranteed to become an obsession to anyone with a fused ankle is footwear. When suddenly more than 80% of shoes on the market are inappropriate, uncomfortable or downright impossible, the hunt for that elusive comfortable, yet not hideous, pair can occupy many waking hours.
The cruel truth is that even you do manage to hunt down what you think are perfect shoes, it is only after walking around in them for half a day will you know if they are keepers or not. Of course, by then, they will be un-returnable due to use. If you have an ankle fusion, be prepared to spend an absolute fortune on footwear that you may or may not be actually able to wear.
Of course, all individual needs are different, but here is a guide to what to look for in a pair of shoes or boots.
You will no longer be able to wear shoes that are completely flat as this will hinder your walking gait, yet the majority of heels are completely out of the question, unless you wish to walk bowlegged for half an hour and then sob with pain for the rest of the day.
There is a heel sweet spot of between 2.5 – 4 cm that lifts the heel enough to enable a roll through the foot. Not all heels are created equal though. A smooth, comfortable walking gait is more attainable with a cushioned wide heel. Don’t even bother with any sort of narrow heel, such as a kitten heel, your lack of ankle mobility will mean that it will be impossible to stabilise whilst walking.
Soles and insoles
As you know from walking barefoot with a fused ankle, your tread is heavier and you are liable to stomp. Rigid soled shoes will create the same effect, so look for a sole with enough flexibility to encourage a roll through the foot.
Ideally you want a ridged sole to avoid slipping, as shiny soles combined with a heavy tread will send you sliding all over the place. If you find the perfect shoe, but the sole is too slippy, consider getting them resoled with a non-slip sole. Do take them to a cobblers before wearing them though as not all shoes are suitable to be resoled.
To avoid feeling flat-footed, you will need decent arch support. Flip flops or other flimsy flat shoes are a definite no-go unless it is just for walking poolside. Trying to walk distance in cheap flat shoes will just create ankle pain.
Most insoles can accomodate a removable heel raise if the shoes are too flat for comfort, but they need to fit snugly so they don’t shift whilst walking.
If, like me, the circulation on your fused foot and ankle is poor, then the cold will be a consideration. I use lambswool fleecy insoles in my winter shoes to help my feet stay warm.
This is a tricky one. Shoes that offer decent ankle support are invaluable when walking on rough terrain, but if like me, you have metalwork in your ankle joint, then any pressure upon the ankle bone is incredibly uncomfortable. I have a prominent screw in the joint which rules out any tight fitting ankle boot, you may be more lucky if the fusion is the only metalwork that you have.
Have you ever tried to put on a pair of wellies without moving your ankle? It cannot be done unless the wellies are so loose as to render them ineffective for supporting the foot and ankle. The options are zip up wellies, ankle wellies or lace up wellies. These all require a slight heel and insoles to aid arch support.
I have yet to find a pair of zip up wellies that do not make me look as if I am auditioning for the part of Dick Whittington and I have a pair of ankle wellies, but they rub on my ankle screw after a short distance, so I only wear them occasionally.
The best waterproof boots that I have found are a pair of Hunter lace up ankle boots which are now sadly discontinued, I still scour Ebay for pairs as during the winter I practically live in them.
Trainers are by far the best option for a fused ankle. However, not all trainers are created equal. Tennis shoe style trainers like Stan Smith’s are generally too flat for comfort, but you can use a heel raise under the insole to give a little more foot roll. This does not work with baseball boots like Converse as they have very little structure to the sole and practically zero arch support. If you do choose to wear them, you are likely to have visible limp and some discomfort at the end of the day.
Generally sports trainers give a far more natural and comfortable walking gait. Trainers where the sole curves to a raised toe relieve the pressure on your big toe whilst walking. If I have a lot of city walking to do, these would be my first choice. The most comfortable trainers that I have found so far are a pair of Adidas Pure Boost.
I own more trainers that any other type of shoe and it is lucky that nowadays wearing trainers is totally acceptable for most occasions.
I am currently reliving my youth with a pair of Adidas Gazelles, a pair of which I first owned in the mid-90’s (that is how old I am). I loved those original burgundy suede Gazelles so much that I wore them constantly until an unintentional dip in the Caribbean Sea saw them off for good.
Gone are the days of little strappy sandals and cheap flip flops. Unfortunately once you have you ankle fused you will need proper support in your shoes. I cannot bear the look of FitFlops, but they are a decent choice for those with orthopeadic issues as they have a wide supportive band across the foot and a decent cushioned heel. Surpisingly I found that a pair of <whispers> Crocs flip flops were the most comfortable and they looked the most like a normal pair of flip flops.
Birkenstocks are always touted as the perfect orthopaedic shoe, which may well be the case for a normal ankle and indeed, I used to wear them alot before the accident, but since the ankle has been fused, I find the the soles too rigid. Their new EVA range of plastic shoes however, are really comfortable and as they are fully waterproof, they are perfect for the beach.
Going Out Shoes
This is probably the most difficult type of shoe to get right. Without heels to fall back on, it takes more effort to dress up an outfit. Obviously trainers are an option, metallic or animal print designs can make an outfit more party-ready. Trainers, however, can make dresses and skirts look dumpy, so hem length is a consideration here.
Brogues or loafers always look effortlessly cool when I see them on Instagram or Pinterest, but they always make me look like an aged archivist and I speak as an aged archivist.
I managed to find a gorgeous pair of flat silver sandals by Hudson, which I have had resoled with a non-slip sole and these are now my go-to pair of shoes when going out.
Rocker Bottom shoes
You were probably told about rocker bottom shoes by your orthopeadic surgeon or physiotherapist. I remember being shown a catalogue of rocker bottom shoes when being fitted for orthotics and nearly weeping at their sheer hideousness of them. I did invest in a pair of MBT shoes at an eye watering expense for the most unattractive pair of shoes I have ever owned (and I wore Clarks school shoes in the early 80’s), but ironically I found them insanely uncomfortable so they still languish at the back of my wardrobe.
If you want to check out my Pinterest boards on this subject, the link is here.
Whilst I know that you lot are a bunch of sensible, educated people and don’t need telling, for the sake of clarity, I am obviously not an orthopaedic expert or trained in podiatry etc. Any shoes that I have mentioned in this post are ones that I have found comfortable, they are not intended to be recommendations or adverts, nor am I being paid for mentioning them in any way.