Arthritis and your feet
Arthritis is a disease that affects the joints. There are over 100 different types of arthritis. The three main types are osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and psoriatic arthritis (PsA). Each type develops differently, but they can all have a painful effect on the joints of your feet.
Normally, cartilage acts as a cushion between bones, helping them move more smoothly. As arthritis wears away the cartilage, bones rub painfully against one another.
Each foot has more than 30 joints. Arthritis that affects any of these joints can make it difficult — and painful — to walk. Most often, arthritis affects the ankle, middle of the foot, and big toe.
Treating arthritis in your feet
You have a few options for treating arthritis in your foot joints.
You can take pain relievers or get steroid shots to bring down swelling and reduce discomfort. Or you can see a physical therapist to learn exercises that keep your feet more mobile. Braces or a cane can help you walk more confidently and with greater stability.
If these treatments don’t work, you may need surgery to fuse or replace damaged joints.
Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any type of treatment. Your doctor will recommend the right treatment for you based on which type of arthritis you have, as well as other factors.
Why the right shoes matter
Arthritis doesn’t only wear away at your joints. It can bend your feet out of shape, leaving large bumps that don’t fit properly into shoes.
Trying to squeeze your feet into tight-fitting or uncomfortable shoes will only make arthritis pain worse. On the other hand, wearing the right shoes can reduce foot pain and help you walk around more easily.
Shoes to avoid: High heels
Soaring heels may look good, but they’re not good for your feet. Pointy high heels squeeze your toes and thrust your foot into an uncomfortable angle. They’re hard on anyone’s feet, and especially so if you have arthritis. A study from Iowa State University found that wearing high heels can damage the knee joint and contribute to osteoarthritis of the knee.
Shoes to avoid: Tight flats
Considering that heels are unhealthy for your feet, you might be tempted to go in the opposite direction. Yet flats aren’t great for arthritis, either. Flats can be rough on your feet — especially if the shoes are rigid and have a pointy toe. Narrow-toed shoes can cause hammertoes, which is when the toes bend so they look like little hammers. If you do wear flats, make sure they’re flexible and provide good foot support.
Shoes to buy: Low, comfortable heels
The ideal shoe has a thick, low heel — like a wedge. The height of the shoe should put your foot into a comfortable, natural angle. Also make sure the shoes have rubber soles, which act like shock absorbers and prevent you from slipping. Your shoes should also have a wide toe box to give your toes plenty of room to move around.
Stability shoes have a cushioned midsole and heel to prevent the foot from rolling inward. They also act as a shock absorber. Stability shoes may not be the best option for people with osteoarthritis of the knee because they can increase the load on the knee. But they may be good for people with arthritis of the hip, foot, or ankle, especially people who tend to roll their foot inward when they walk.
For people with osteoarthritis of the knee, walking barefoot may be even better than wearing some types of shoes. That’s because barefoot walking reduces the load on the knee joint. When you can’t go barefoot, flip-flops are another option. A 2010 study in Arthritis Care & Research found that flexible, low-heeled flip-flops put about the same amount of load on the knee joint as walking barefoot.
Do insoles help?
Some people with arthritis of the knee put inserts called wedge insoles into their shoes. Lateral insoles are thicker at the outer edge of the foot, which is thought to reduce the load on the inner knee joint. Yet a 2013 study in JAMA found that these insoles don’t improve knee pain. As well, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons doesn’t recommend insoles for treating knee arthritis.