Best Shoes for Kids with AFOs – Stop Buying Bigger Shoes to Accommodate the AFOs!
AFOs can enhance children’s mobility by keeping their feet and legs in proper alignment, correcting abnormal walking patterns, and improving the child’s stability and overall posture. However, it’s important to note that for your child to get the full benefits that the AFOs have to offer, you must fit them in the correct type of shoes. I have put together a list of the best shoes for kids with AFOs based on my many years of shoe fitting experience.
There are several reasons why your medical professional might have recommended a pair of AFOs (ankle foot orthoses) for your child, but some of the most common ones are:
- Low muscle tone (Hypotonia).
- High muscle tone (Hypertonia)
- Joint hypermobility.
- Delayed standing or inability to stand for prolonged time.
- Drop foot.
- Excessive degree of pronation or supination.
- Toe walking.
- Severe metatarsus adductus.
Did you know that a properly-fitting shoe is critical to the proper functioning of an Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO)? Finding the perfect pair of shoes for your child’s AFO can be a time-consuming and challenging experience, but I am going to help you find them.
My Experience Helping Children Find Shoes for AFOs
I have been fitting children’s shoes and orthotics for the last 10 years, working for a specialized children’s shoe store that focuses in helping children with foot and leg problems.
Footwear options are not as limited as you think, but it takes time and experience to understand what shoes work best with AFOs. By the way, I am not here to restrict the type of shoes your child should wear with his/her AFOs. I understand how important it is for children to be able to wear shoes that they like, but at the same time, I feel I have a responsibility to tell you if a shoe is doing more damage than good. You are investing money and time in an AFO so you might as well get the full benefits that the AFOs have to offer.
Physical and occupational therapists refer families to the shoe store I work for to be fitted for shoes and orthotics. We get a lot of families who bring their AFOs with them and we need to help them find the correct type of shoe.
If you are in a rush you can go directly to the selection of the best sneakers for kids with AFOs.
Medical professionals get frustrated when children’s functional mobility is compromised because the shoes don’t fit the AFOs correctly. In most cases, the shoes are fitted too big.
My Main Piece of Advice for Families of Children Who Wear AFOs
Getting the correct type of shoes for your child’s AFOs is extremely important to enhance your child’s function and increase comfort. If you don’t fit your child’s AFOs in the correct type of shoes, your child won’t get any of the benefits that the AFOs have to offer.
I have seen a lot of misinformation when it comes to what shoes work best with AFOs.
One of the most common mistakes that I see parents make is to assume that shoes that fit over the AFOs automatically become a good choice. Just because you found a specific shoe that fits the AFOs doesn’t make it the ideal shoe for your child to wear.
Another common mistake I see parents make is to increase the child’s shoe size by a whole size and a half or bigger. Shoes that are bigger than a whole size and a half (half an inch or 1.3 centimeters) will compromise your child’s stability and defeat one of the main purposes of the AFOs: to improve the child’s stability.
Be Careful About Taking Advice from Other Families
As I mentioned before, shoes that are the wrong size can make your child’s AFO virtually worthless.
I know how excited parents get when they find a pair of shoes that are capable of fitting their child’s AFOs. However, I have noticed how most families fit their children in shoes that are too big for their feet.
Sometimes I see parents recommend specific shoe brands or specific shoe styles just because they found a shoe that fits over their child’s AFO braces. The issue is that these parents got the shoes two shoes bigger than their child’s current foot size. You will probably fit any shoe in the AFOs if you are getting the shoes that big!
Are All New Balance Shoes in Extra Wide a Good Choice for AFOs?
You should be skeptical when you hear “try New Balance shoes in extra wide”. The New Balance kids’ shoe line is quite extensive, and models differ greatly in terms of fit and support. Not all New Balance shoes in extra wide widths are capable of accommodating AFOs and some styles provide better support and stability than others.
For example, it’s important for the shoes to provide firm heel counters to provide additional heel and ankle support as well as heel stabilization. The heel counter is the back part of the shoe and it should always feel firm and sturdy. Take a look at the image below for better visualization purposes:
Another example is the shoe brand Billy shoes. Some families love this shoe brand for their children who wear AFOs while some parents who have tried them didn’t have the same luck. This is simply because not all Billy shoes are capable of accommodating AFOs.
What Makes the Shoes I Recommend Ideal for AFOs? – 6 Important Features
1️⃣ Extra Depth: This feature allows the child’s AFO to fit deeply inside the shoes. The deeper the AFO sits inside the shoes, the more comfortable your child will feel. This feature can drastically increase your child’s comfort and prevent your child from getting the impression that his/her feet are coming out of the shoes.
2️⃣ Round Toe-Boxes: This feature helps prevent the front part of the AFO from destroying the front part of the shoes.
3️⃣ Wider Opening for Easy On & Off: This feature allows parents to easily slide the AFO inside the shoes so they don’t have to struggle every time they have to put on the AFOs.
4️⃣ Substantial Outsoles: The shoes must provide a substantial outsole to hold the AFO in place and support your child’s feet at the same time.
5️⃣ Firm Heel Counters: We already went over this feature. Shoes with firm heel counters help provide additional heel and ankle support as well as heel stabilization.
6️⃣ Removable Insoles: By removing the original insoles of the shoes you will allow for extra room for the AFOs.
I know this might sound like a lot, but don’t worry! Several shoes provide these 6 important features and I will provide you with a list of these shoes to make things easier for you. By the way, high top shoes are not necessarily better when it comes to fitting AFOs.
The shoes below will work for children with solid ankle-foot orthosis, hinged ankle-foot orthosis, and dynamic ankle-foot orthosis. All of the shoes I recommend below provide the 8 important features I mentioned above. Most importantly, because of their extra depth design, you will be able to choose a shoe size that closely matches the length of your child’s foot.
The New Balance, Saucony, and Stride Rite shoes are available in wide (W) and extra wide (XW) widths. Even though See Kai Run and Ikiki shoes are not available in wide widths they fit really wide.
Best Shoes for Kids with AFOs
Take a look at the description below each shoe image to check what size range that specific shoe style can fit. Disclosure: Some links in this post may be affiliate links and we may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) when you click our links and make purchases. This allows us to create free content and resources for many families around the world.
Get in Touch With Us for a Personalized Suggestion
Without a doubt, children’s shoe needs can vary depending on their age, activity level, and any specific foot conditions they may have. The list I provided you with showcases the absolute best shoes that work with AFOs. With that said, there are other shoes out there that can accommodate an AFO. There might not be as deep or supportive as the ones I recommended above but they will definitely fit the AFO.
Do not hesitate to contact me and I will show you some alternatives: firstname.lastname@example.org
How to Lace Your Kids’ Shoes to Secure the AFOs
If you decide to get your child a pair of shoes with shoelaces, there is a specific shoe lacing technique that I strongly recommend doing as it will secure and support your child’s heels and prevent them from slipping off the shoes.
This shoe lacing technique also works great for children who always try to kick their AFOs off.
Feedback from Families!
The Problem of Getting Shoes that Are too Big
Shoes that are too big cannot support your child’s gait or weight transition and will compromise your child’s stability.
I understand how dealing with your child’s AFO can be an extremely time-consuming and frustrating experience, but every quarter-inch of improvement is worth fighting for. Let me ask you this: How steady would you feel walking and running around in oversized shoes?
How to Order the Correct Size for Your Child’s AFOs?
I have noticed how most families simply increase the shoes they normally buy by two or more sizes, which can defeat the whole purpose of investing your time and money in an AFO.
One of the most common reasons why children need to wear AFOs is to improve their stability. However, if you provide your child with shoes that are way too big, you’re stealing that stability right back.
I came up with a system to help those families who are unsure about what shoe size they need to order for their child’s AFOs. My method shouldn’t take you longer than a minute to do, and you will have the peace of mind that you are ordering the correct shoe size for your child’s AFOs.
All you need to follow my method is a measuring tape to measure your child’s AFOs. I will then input those measurements in the Brannock Device (you can do this yourself if you have one at home), and this will retrieve the shoe size that you need to order.
➡️ Step Number 1: Measure Your Child’s AFOs
Measure your child’s AFO brace from the back of the heel up to the front part of the brace as shown in the image below. You can either use a measuring tape or a ruler. Make note of that measurement and proceed to step number 2.
➡️ Step Number 2: Measure Your Child’s Foot Length
Measure your child’s feet while standing, as on weight-bearing the foot becomes longer.
Measure both feet up to the tip of your child’s longest toe. It’s imperative that you measure both feet since there is always one foot that is bigger than the other. Keep in mind that your child’s longest toe doesn’t necessarily have to be the big toe — it may in fact be the second or even the third toe.
Make a note of that measurement in centimeters or inches or email me the image showing the measurements (such as you see below) to avoid confusion with the measurements.
➡️ Step 3: Email Your Child’s Measurements
Email me your child’s feet and AFO measurements so I can tell you exactly what shoe size you should order for your child. Once I receive your child’s measurements I will respond in less than 24 hours.
How Do I Retrieve What Shoe Size Your Child Should Wear with the AFOs?
So, for example, let’s say your child’s AFOs measure 6 1/2 inches. I will then place a measuring tape in the Brannock Device (see image below) and that will retrieve the shoe size that you should order to accommodate the AFO. In this case, 6 1/2 inches end at the shoe size 10 mark, which means that is the size we want to order. Not an inch longer or shorter.
Now that you have a better idea of what shoe size you should order for your child’s AFOs I will show you a list of the best shoes for kids with AFOs.
What Are the Best Socks for Kids Who Wear AFOs?
I have been told by many medical professionals that AFOs should not come into direct contact with the child’s skin.
While some children may be able to wear any type of socks underneath their AFOs, others may find short socks or socks with ribs and seams to be uncomfortable. It’s important to frequently check your child’s feet as the seams may rub and cause irritation, while short socks may allow plastic and strapping to rub against bare skin.
Always choose socks that are at least as tall as the AFOs with few or no seams. Thinner socks usually work the best, since thicker ones may not fit easily within the brace.
I have fitted socks that are made specifically for children who wear AFOs in their shoes, and these socks help provide your child with protection and comfort under their orthotics.
The chart below will help you figure out your child’s correct sock size:
Best Resources for Children Who Wear AFOs
Myths and Facts About the Best Shoe Brands for Kids Who Wear AFOs
I have seen many children wear Crocs with their AFOs. Now, I want you to think about it this way. AFOs help provide stability. Do you think about stability when you think of Crocs? I mention Crocs because I have seen parents recommend them because of how convenient and easy they are to put on and off. However, they are probably the more unstable piece of footwear there is.
After having fitted hundreds of different shoe styles and several different shoe brands I came up with a list of the best and worst shoe brands with AFOs. Keep in mind that not every option on this list is guaranteed to fit your child, there are specific shoe styles among each brand that are better than others.
Best shoe brands for AFOs:
- New Balance
- Stride Rite
- Ikiki (indoor wear).
Worst shoe brands for AFOs:
- Under Armour
I didn’t include Billy Footwear on either list because there is a common misconception about Billy shoes. Most families assume that Billy shoes are meant to be worn with AFOs because they provide an alternative way to access entry into shoes. However, this doesn’t mean that the shoes are specifically designed to be worn with AFOs. They are a great alternative as a “fashion” alternative shoe but not as everyday shoes.
How Long Does my Child Need to Wear the AFOs?
The length of time your child should wear the AFO will vary depending on the degree of your child’s condition. Some children need to wear them constantly, while others only for a few hours.
In my experience, how often your child should wear the AFOs with his or her shoes depends on the severity of your child’s condition and the treatment goals, and this is a question your medical professional will be able to answer.
Velcro Extenders for Kids Who Wear Velcro Shoes with AFOs
If you fit your child’s AFOs in a pair of velcro shoes that I recommend it’s highly likely that you won’t have to use a velcro extender. However, if you already have a pair of shoes and the velcro straps are not going all the way across, you might have to add a velcro extender.
You can ask your orthotist to add extenders to your kids’ shoes as your medical professional will do it free of charge.
If you are having trouble getting an appointment with your orthotist you can always buy the velcro extender and do it yourself: Velcro Extender
Best Shoes for Kids Who Wear AFOs – Watch Video!
I created a video that will help you better visualize everything I discussed in this article.
Final Thoughts About Finding Shoes for AFOs
AFOs can make your child walking easier by supporting weakened muscles, reducing the risk of falls and pain.
Choosing the correct type of shoes in the correct size is the only way your child will get the full benefits of the AFOs. The shoes need to be comfortable and they can’t be too big, otherwise, your child’s AFOs will spend more time in the closet than actually being worn, and you will be wasting time and money.
I always suggest parents ask their orthotist or physical therapist about the shoes the child is wearing and how they fit.
Please do not allow your child to wear the AFO without shoes as it can be slippery.
Let me know in the comment section below if you have found a specific shoe style that has worked well for your child’s AFOs.