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Post-Polio Health (ISSN 1066-5331)

Vol. 8, No. 1, Winter 1992


New Braces Do Not Always Mean Ugly Shoes

Marge Torre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Approximately a year and a half ago I, like many of you, was told that going back into braces was the only answer to my unstable ankle and feet problems. I was not surprised.

What I did not expect was my emotional reaction the first day that the braces were put on. My mind was filled with memories – memories of childhood and early teens; memories of operations, and most of all, the pain. They all came rushing back and I had to pull the car over to the side of the road four times because of the tears.

When I finally returned home, I threw my braces as far back into my closet as I could. For the next 24 hours I cried. I cried myself to sleep and I woke up crying. Then the phone calls started from my polio survivor friends who had already faced new bracing. Not long after the supportive calls, I realized that I was not being fair to my braces or to myself. I kept telling myself I would walk better with my new braces. While I was trying to convince myself I was really fortunate, I suddenly realized I had to find shoes for my braces. More memories of ugly, orthopedic shoes.

I thought the challenge of finding shoes for my braces was going to be a long and tedious job. I was very delighted to find I was wrong. Recently having purchased a pair of sneakers at a neighborhood orthopedic shoe store, I purposely returned so I could find the salesman who had been so pleasant and helpful.

He was busy with another customer when I walked in carrying my braces. I looked at the shoes on display and found a pair that I liked but was sure they would be a "no no" for my braces. The shoes were the wrong size, wrong color, made by a company out of business, and the only pair of that style left in the store. Thanks to Jim Dodd (W.E. Comfort Shoes, 8026 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia PA) I later owned those same shoes that were now black and comfortable Photo 1including a strap lined with velcro for support (see Photo 1, right). The most wonderful thing of all was the realization that braces did not always have to mean ugly shoes, and that I now had a pair of shoes that I would feel comfortable wearing with a skirt.

When it was determined that my new braces were adding to my fatigue, new and lighter ones were made. This time they were not attached to the heel of my shoe, but featured a footplate that would fit inside any shoe with the correct heel size.

Photo 2, boots.For me, though, the problem still was finding my small shoe size. So again, I returned to Jim, carrying my second set of new braces. I told him I would love to have a dress boot for the winter but I had never been able to find a company which made boots in my small but wide size. Jim found a boot wide enough and, once again performed his magic by making boots small enough with the correct heel height (see Photo 2.).

Many times since then I have sat in the shoe store, waiting for Jim to finish with other customers, and have watched him perform shoe magic with those who had bunions, callouses, hammer toes, diabetes, and other neuromuscular diseases besides polio.

A few weeks later, I realized that I was wearing my brace because I liked my shoes, and that Jim and people like him are the world's best kept secret.

I asked Jim how he came to be so good at what he does. He explained to me he had been a shoe salesman for 20 years but had been a pedorthist for 15 years. The easiest way to explain the difference between a regular shoe salesman and a pedorthist is that a pedorthist is a "foot pharmacist for doctors."

Foot Pharmacist for Doctors

PEDORTHIST – practitioner of pedorthics.

Pedorthics (pronounced "pe-door-thicks") is a unique foot-health professional service that specializes in prescription footwear, footwear modifications, and foot orthotics.

According to Doorland's Medical Dictionary, pedorthics is defined as "the art concerned with the
design, manufacture, fit, and modification of shoes and related foot appliances as prescribed for the improvement of painful or disabling conditions of the foot and limb."

Pedorthics and Polio Survivors

The profession of pedorthics can greatly assist the polio survivor by reducing energy expenditure. This is accomplished by supporting the foot with proper footwear and providing a better biomechanical alignment through the use of shoe inserts and shoe modifications.

Because certain foot muscle groups are used in a repeated fashion, individuals can place undue
pressure on one area of the foot. Certified pedorthists can remedy foot conditions and stabilize feet
by using polymer resins, rocker soles and flares within the structure of the footwear.

The Certified Pedorthist

The individual who has served a period of intemship and training, has fulfilled academic requirements, and who has been tested and credentialed by the Board for Certification in Pedorthics is known as a "board certified pedorthist." A certified pedorthist (C.Ped.) dispenses and provides medically related specialty footwear service that affect the ability of people to function.

The certified pedorthist works in concert with physicians and other allied health professionals
such as orthotists, prosthetists, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and nurses in the "team approach to foot health care."

The physician provides the prescription from which the certified pedorthist designs and fits the prescribed therapeutic footwear for his or her patient.

Many physicians will refer their patients only to board certified pedorthists. Medical and allied
health professionals look to certified pedorthists for quality and excellence in specialized footwear care.

A National Association

Most certified pedorthists belong to a national organization known as the Prescription Footwear
(PFA). PFA is a professional, nonprofit group comprised of individuals from a variety
of medical and retail disciplines who share an interest in pedorthics, its practice, treatment,
research, and education.

Currently, Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, and Ball State University in Muncie,
Indiana, are the institutions that offer basic training courses in pedorthics.

Literature Available

For a complimentary brochure explaining the profession of pedorthics, the function of a certified
pedorthist, and a directory of board certified pedorthists located in the United States and
Canada, please contact Cynthia Emmel, Director of Communications, c/o Prescription Footwear Association, 9861 Broken Land Parkway, Suite 255, Columbia, MD 21046-1151 or call 1-800/673-8447.

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