Tips for Choosing Chronic Illness-Friendly Footwear for Women

Footwear may not be your first consideration when you think about chronic illness, but the wrong shoe choice can have huge knock-down effects. If you suffer from neuropathy, chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, or exercise intolerance, it pays to keep a few things in mind when choosing your shoes. Here are some points to consider as you select your footwear.

Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links and I will earn a small commission if you purchase through those links. I post links to products that I have used personally, or that I feel might be helpful or useful to my readers. I particularly like to support small businesses, socially-responsible sellers, and other disabled/chronically ill individuals whenever possible.


Image shows floral print casual canvas slip-on shoe, and links to DSW website.
A left shoe is shown on a white background. It is a casual canvas slip-on shoe with mustard yellow background and small white flowers scattered throughout with dark gold stems and navy centers. On the inside of the shoe, we read, “Keds” in matching dark gold block.

There are so many ways in which laces and straps can trip us up, aren’t there? There’s the dexterity required, for one. If you suffer from joint pain or trouble with coordination, this may be extremely difficult for you. Then there’s the bending, which can cause all sorts of problems with balance and pain. If any of these factors are an issue for you, then select shoes that are easy to slip on. There are literally thousands of different styles, and none of them have to look like what I call “elderly shoes.” Find a style that you like, and that reflects your personality!

I love this particular pair for a few reasons. For one, they typically come at a reasonable price point. They tend to be well-made and comfortable. The soles are sturdy without being rigid, to make them easy to walk in. And these shoes are not particularly heavy, and they don’t slide around on my feet. When I am in a bad flare-up, I have to be very mindful about wearing shoes that don’t stay put. If I have to grip with my toes to keep shoes in place, it depletes my energy and muscle strength much faster. Likewise with shoes that are very heavy. This brand offers this style in a multitude of colors and patterns. A couple of years ago they even had shoes printed with Archie comics, which of course I bought!

Image of black and white geometric woven flat shoe, and links to Skechers website.
A black and white ballet flat with pointed toe has woven geometric pattern. We see the right show set on white background.

It’s hard to beat a ballet flat for easy-on! There are many options out there that reflect just about any personal style. As you choose your pair, make sure you are selecting something that will stay put securely on your foot without sliding around, and that feels comfortable with long use. If you suffer from pain in your feet, it’s wise to consider a pair with some built-in cushion or arch support. This pair has a memory foam layer, is machine washable, and vegan–talk about ticking all the boxes!


Image of medium gray lace-up ankle boot, links to Famous Footwear site.
An ankle boot in hiking boot style has wide black foam sole with leather trim. The body of the shoe is made of soft gray wool-like material with off-white fleece tongue, and there is gray and white lacing through metal rings. We see the right shoe on a white background.

If you think about how much time is spent in shoes each day, it’s no wonder that uncomfortable or heavy shoes can take their toll, especially with chronic illness or disability issues. For me, a heavy shoe is a deal-breaker. My legs tend to feel like cement blocks after any exertion without shoes, so adding actual weight to my feet makes it incredibly difficult for me. When I am choosing shoes, weight is always a consideration. This doesn’t mean I can only wear flimsy, lightweight shoes. Instead, I choose styles made from alternative materials that aren’t quite so heavy. These boots, for example, are fuzzy and sturdy, but the foam sole makes them lightweight. If heavy shoes are an issue for you, I encourage you not to buy online so that you can pick up the shoes for yourself and test them out. If they feel heavy in your hand, they will probably make life difficult on your feet.

Image of black and white lightweight athletic shoe, with link to Macy's website.
A predominantly black lightweight athletic shoe has crisscrossed white stitching along side and leather-look black toe. There is elastic lacing over the tongue of the shoe, and wide white rubber sole. The right shoe is shown on white background.

Athletic shoes are another potential pitfall when it comes to overall weight. Many have dense rubber soles or are made from bulky materials that add unnecessary heaviness. When you are choosing an athletic shoe, opt for something with a lightweight foam sole and meshy fabrics that are breezy and don’t add much weight. This shoe would pair well with athletic clothes, jeans, or just about anything. As an added bonus, there are no laces to tie on this pair. If joint pain or dexterity issues make tying laces a challenge for you, this is a great option! One word of caution, however, if you struggle with muscle fatigue or weakness. The inability to tighten and adjust the laces on this particular pair might make for a loose fit, and nothing is more exhausting to those feet and lower legs than shoes that slide around and have to be gripped. Make sure you can get a good fit with whatever shoe you choose!

Secure, Effortless Fit

Image of women's brown leather camel colored gladiator sandals, with link to Etsy seller.
A woman is wearing camel colored brown leather gladiator style sandals. We see only her ankles and feet. She wears dark jeans and navy blue toenail polish, and her feet rest on a white marble wall.

We all want to be able to wear strappy, airy shoes when the weather turns hot. But sandals can be a particular challenge, as there’s not much material there to hold them in place. I find I can’t wear any shoe that is held on just by the toes, such as flip flops or sandals without backs. It’s just too much work to grip, and it wears me out. If this is an issue for you, then I would recommend finding a pair that has a strap around the back of the foot, or that straps securely to the front of your foot. Something like this pair would do the trick well, and is versatile enough to be worn with shorts, dresses, or jeans. If you have foot pain, you might also consider finding a pair with some padding or built-in arch support. The thin soles on sandals make them especially likely to cause foot pain.

Image of burgundy and white high heel, with link to Poshmark site.
A right burgundy and white t-strap low pump is seen on a white background. The body of the shoe is white, with burgundy oxford-style toe, burgundy heel, and burgundy trim around shoe and on t-strap. The inside of the shoe is light brown leather.

What do we do about heels, ladies? If you suffer from any of the conditions I’ve described, you may feel your days of wearing cute high heels are behind you. Hold on! Not so fast! You may still be able to wear those stunning shoes to set off your outfit… When you are purchasing a shoe with a heel, there are a few things to consider. For one, you will want to find a shoe that can fasten securely to your foot, so that you aren’t wasting energy sliding around and gripping. A t-strap shoe is a great option for this, since it provides support in more than one place on your foot. You will also want to consider heel height. If you are mid-flare-up, or have significant pain, it may not be the right time to bring out those four-inch heels. It’s just too difficult sometimes to balance, keep the shoe in place, and manage pain levels. If this is the case for you, then stick to heels that are three inches or less, as they tend to be a little safer. Chunkier heels are easier for balance, so I would avoid a stiletto heel if this is a potential challenge. Finally, think about the support the shoe offers. If possible, choose a heel that has some cushion and arch support–both for comfort, and to improve the fit of the shoe. I recently purchased these heels in black and white from Chase and Chloe, and, wow! They are adorable, for starters. The strap holds my foot securely in place. The heel is a comfortable height, so I don’t struggle to keep my balance and use energy unnecessarily. And the fit is probably the most comfortable I’ve ever had in a high heel. I’m back in a flare-up again and using my cane these days, and I’m considering adjusting my cane height up and wearing these shoes. I never would have considered that in the past, but they are comfortable enough that I will be giving it a try!

I hope these ideas have given you some points to consider as you choose your footwear. It’s possible to retain your personal style without compromising on function. Get creative, and find shoes that work for you!

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