How to Prevent AFOs From Destroying Kids’ Shoes

I’ve noticed many families express frustration as they invest in shoes that don’t hold up well when used with AFOs. Orthotic devices such as AFOs are designed to improve foot posture and stability, but they place extra stress on footwear, leading to quicker-than-normal wear and tear. Some families complain about broken zippers while for some others is about the soles separating or stitching coming undone. I am going to show you how to prevent AFOs from destroying kids’ shoes by focusing on two key aspects of AFO functionality: FIT a DURABILITY.

By the way, when AFOs destroy shoes, the issue is not always financial, it’s also the emotional toll parents take when shoes fail to support their child’s needs. Many of these families spend hours of their time trying different shoes until they are able to find that one pair that works well for the AFOs. I always remind these families that simply because they find a shoe that fits over the AFOs that doesn’t mean that shoe will hold up okay or support the child’s feet properly.

Many families listen to the experiences shared by others in online forums (Reddit and Quora) or Facebook groups. These insights can guide you toward the right purchase, but keep in mind that what might work really well for some children might not work as well for others. You don’t know if these families bought the shoes extra large to begin with. That’s the reason why getting recommendations from a shoe fitter like me has its advantages, as I have been fitting children’s shoes for children with different types of AFOs. You can learn more about my journey and expertise in fitting children’s shoes to understand that you are in good hands.

3 Main Reasons Why AFOs Are Destroying Your Kids’ Shoes

1️⃣ AFO Structure: AFOs attachment points, rigid structures, and long footplates can strain shoe materials and seams, often destroying shoes long before they should. Some families complain about scuffed toes or worn heels; while for some others it’s about soles separating, stitching coming undone, and fabric tearing.

2️⃣ Wrong Fit: Fitting AFOs in shoes that are the wrong size, will also lead to the shoes falling apart faster than expected. If AFOs are fitted in shoes that are too long, they will move too much inside the shoes and that constant friction and rubbing between the AFOs and the shoes will lead to wear and tear. On the other hand, if the shoes are fitted in shoes that are too short, the AFO footplate will likely destroy the front part of the shoes.

3️⃣ Poorly Made Shoes: Shoes that are not supportive or made from low-quality materials will wear down faster.

The Importance of Buying Supportive and Durable Shoes

Based on my many years of shoe fitting experience, I suggest looking for shoes with thick, robust outsole materials that can withstand constant friction. Notice the difference between a pair of shoes with a thin outsole and one that provides a more stable base of support:

Supportive New Balance shoe for kids with flat feet vs a pair of Saucony shoe that doesn't provide a stable base of support.

Construction is crucial. Shoes stitched rather than glued tend to hold up better under stress. A reinforced toe area is also really important to prevent the footplate of the AFOs from destroying the front part of the shoes:

Supportive and durable Keen kids' shoe with a reinforced toe-box for extra durability.

I also suggest looking for shoes that have oversized openings with adjustable closures; this isn’t just convenient but essential for accommodating AFOs without stressing the shoe structure.

A See Kai Run shoe with oversized openings for children who wear orthotics vs a Tsukihoshi shoe that is not wide or deep enough to accommodate orthotics.

It’s clear that certain children’s shoes are more durable than others, and durable shoes can withstand the added pressure of AFOs and provide the necessary support without needing constant replacement.

Where Can You Find Durable Shoes with These 3 Key Features?

If you have a specialized children’s shoe store in your area, go visit them and try multiple pairs of shoes. Not sure whether you have a good-fitting shoe store in your area? I created a resource that has a list of the most specialized children’s shoe stores in the US by state. The issue is that some families live in rural areas and they only have access to shoes online, without trying them on first. If this is the case with you, here is a list of the most durable shoes for kids who wear AFOs. In that resource, I focus on brands known for their durability.

Remember, additional space may be needed to accommodate the AFO, so it’s typically advised to size-up. However, too large a shoe can be just as problematic as one that’s too small. You will notice that below my shoe recommendations, I suggest how much space you should leave in the front part of the shoes.

Favorite Shoe Brands for AFOs – My Top 2 Recommendations

Always look for shoe brands that manufacture shoes that are available in wide or extra-wide options, as it’s better to go wider and deeper to provide a better fit for AFOs.

In all honesty, I usually don’t like to recommend specific shoe brands as I feel like there are specific shoes among each brand that work a lot better than others. However, a lot of families insist that I recommend specific shoe brands for their children. With experience, I’ve come to recognize which brands can withstand the challenge and which fall short. New Balance is one of my favorites, supported by solid testimonials about their potential for heavy use. See Kai Run has shoes with a combination of functionality with trendy styles, and they’re known for holding up well under the stress of AFOs.

The Fit Factor: Sizing Shoes for AFOs Online

I understand the struggle parents face when shopping for shoes that need to fit over ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs), particularly when buying online. It’s a challenge to find that elusive perfect fit without the trial and error that comes with in-person shopping. I have been contacted by families who ordered and tried over 10 pairs of shoes online and they ended up empty-handed. That’s why mastering the online measuring process is so important.

I created a virtual AFO fitting method that will help you determine exactly what shoe size you should order to accommodate the AFOs. For extra assurance, you can reach out to me via email or through the comments section below.

Does Your Child Wear Hinged AFOs?

Hinged AFOs tend to have plastic bits that stick out on the back and side a little which makes them wider and more prone to destroying the back part of the shoes:

Black Billy shoes for kids who wear hinged AFOs.

If your child happens to wear hinged AFOs there is a different resource I created that will show you a list of deep and durable shoes for hinged AFOs.

I feel like many families can agree that the most frustrating thing about having a child who wears AFOs is how hard it is to find shoes that fit. I want to tell you that you are not alone and that I am here for you as well as many other families who go through the exact same frustrations that you are going through. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below and if you happen to find a specific pair of durable shoes that worked well for your child’s AFOs let us know as well!