The Arthritis Newsletter

Summer 2013

Changing Shoes

By CAB Members. Edited by Dr. Catherine Backman PhD, OT(C), FCAOT


People living with arthritis are often forced to change the style of their footwear in order to accommodate the pain and disability that often affects the feet and toes. In fact “changing shoes” can become a symbol for the lifestyle changes experienced by people with a diagnosis of arthritis. The ARC research team, lead by Dr. Catherine Backman, has explored the effects of living with arthritis on daily activities and identity.  They found that “underlying the seemingly superficial loss of favoured shoes was a loss of self – a professional self, a working self, a country-club self, a stylish self”. In the early stages of arthritis, women reported examples of giving up an important part of their wardrobe, and changing the ways they engaged in activities, set priorities, and viewed themselves.


Some comments from study participants, as reported in a conference presentation, include:


“I started wearing flat shoes. So, flat shoes meant pants and never wearing dresses and I was dressing differently and my life became different and after a couple of years it just, you know, it [RA] wasn’t getting any better. …I came to a realization that this was it…”


“No more shoes, no more the way I used to dress, it just took my whole life and turned it right upside down. Now if you’re not an exerciser, more sedate and you always wore the old granny shoes, which are probably better for your feet; but if you have all that in place then you’re not necessarily going to be hit as hard. …bang, I was in it. A shock to the system, to everything. …all of a sudden life just came to a standstill.”

On the other hand, Dr. Backman notes that “women found ‘new shoes’ through a process of renewed identity and engaging in new roles at home, at work, and in social situations; the old shoes no longer represented the person they had become as they adapted to living with arthritis.” As another study participant reported:


“I cannot wear my high heels. Shoes – I love them! I like to dress up a bit fancier with the high heels… Now I have to keep it simpler and comfortable and [wear] mostly runners or just flat shoes.”


People with arthritis -male and female- often have to alter clothing choices in order to stay mobile and minimize pain. In recent years there has been a trend towards shoes that are both stylish and comfortable.  As a result, it has become easier to find fashionable shoes to meet our needs. With over 4.5 million Canadians with arthritis, perhaps the shoemakers are paying attention!

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