If the Shoe Fits: How Proper Footwear Is Beneficial in Parkinson’s
The other day, when I was shopping for sandals, I thought about my sister Bev, who has stage 3 Parkinson’s disease. I pondered how Parkinson’s might affect her footwear options. For example, I thought about how sandals and flip-flops may be trendy, but they typically aren’t good for people with Parkinson’s who experience balance, walking, and gait problems.
Bev has walking and balance issues, but she doesn’t experience episodes of freezing or stiffness. Her unsteady gait and poor balance have led to several falls. Fortunately, she hasn’t suffered any major injuries as a result.
As Parkinson’s News Today explains, “One of the most debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease is the loss of coordination and control in body movements, which in many cases leads to severe walking disabilities.” I wondered if certain types of shoes might make a difference for those who struggle with walking, balance, gait, or postural instability.
A 2013 study published in PLOS One found that textured insoles can improve posture and reduce sideways swaying in Parkinson’s patients. Researchers concluded that, “Such textured insoles may provide a low-cost means of improving postural stability in high-risk groups, such as people with PD, which may act as an important intervention to prevent falls.”
The use of textured insoles was supported by a review published last year in the Journal of Personalized Medicine of eight other studies involving Parkinson’s patients treated with some type of insole or footwear, including textured insoles, footwear modifications, and habitual footwear. Data collected during the review led authors to conclude that, “There are indications to suggest that textured insoles have positive effects on gait parameters, balance, and plantar sensation in Parkinson’s disease patients.” However, further studies are needed.
Shoes can also be modified specifically for those with foot, balance, or walking problems. In 2020, Parkinson’s News Today‘s Mary Chapman wrote about a partnership between the shoe company Kizik and the Parkinson’s Foundation to make hands-free shoes more widely available to Parkinson’s patients. Kizik makes hands-frees shoes, which allow people to slip their feet into them without bending over and potentially losing their balance. The shoes also have thick foam on the inside for extra support and comfort.
Bev wears tennis shoes with thick soles and no laces so that she can slip them on easily. I am still working on getting her to try textured insoles.
For people with Parkinson’s who experience freezing episodes, laser shoes developed by Dutch researchers may be helpful. In 2018, Parkinson’s News Today‘s Ana de Barros reported that, “The lasers … added to the tops of shoes project lines on the floor that provide patients with the visual cues they need.” This can help to reduce instances of a person freezing in place as they’re walking.
Additionally, a study published last year in the International Journal of Medical Sciences found that people with Parkinson’s are at a higher risk for foot deformities and often wear inadequate footwear, which can diminish their quality of life.
Since balance, gait, walking, and even foot deformity issues are commonly associated with Parkinson’s, it’s important for patients to select the proper footwear. I also recommend adding a podiatrist to your healthcare team.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.