A 2018 research review showed that footwear may affect lower extremity pain in older adults with OA. The results suggested that shock-absorbing insoles and athletic footwear may be effective for reducing lower extremity joint pain from OA.
While everyone’s needs (and feet!) are different, people with knee and back pain generally benefit from supportive shoes that provide stability when walking and extra cushioning to reduce impact on the joints. The right fit and a roomy toe box also help with stability and comfort.
It’s important to understand that not everyone’s needs are the same.
“When shopping for walking or running shoes, it’s important to consider the fact that each individual may vary in terms of the type and location of arthritis in their knees,” says Dr. Miho J. Tanaka, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and the director of the women’s sports medicine program at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
She recommends using assessments offered at athletic shoe stores.
“There are different compartments in the knee that can be affected, and depending on those, different types of support may help offload the affected parts of the knee,” she says.
“People with osteoarthritis generally do best with highly cushioned shoes, and in general, the highest cushioning you can get is from running shoes. The cushion is all about shock absorption,” says Jessica McManus, a physical therapist and owner of Full Circle PT and Wellness.
Look for shoes with cushioned midsoles and multiple layers of foam that give a plush feel with enough support. These shoes often have a platform sole.
Motion control is important to avoid knee and back pain.
“This means the shoe helps to limit how much rotational movement and/or flex the shoe has, hence limiting potentially painful accessory movement further up the chain, into the ankle, knees, hips, and spine,” McManus says.
Look for shoes that help support the foot in a neutral position and align the body from ankle to knee to hips. If you overpronate — which means that the way you walk or run strains your arches and flattens your feet — you can really benefit from motion control.
When it comes to footwear for pain, arch support should be a priority.
“It is crucial to decrease the pressure from your feet to your knees. Doing this will also impact any hips and back issues,” says Dr. Brad Schaeffer, a podiatrist and board certified foot and ankle surgeon who is featured on the TLC show “My Feet Are Killing Me.”
“I like to start with the arch support and make sure that the patient’s arch is properly supported with insoles, like Dr. Scholl’s, or for people with more significant problems, custom orthotics,” Schaeffer adds.
Back and knee pain are common symptoms of OA, the most common type of arthritis in the United States. OA is a degenerative joint disease, and symptoms such as pain, swelling, and stiffness in your joints can worsen over time.
“Shoes should not be relied upon as the sole source of support for an arthritic knee,” Tanaka says. “Rehabilitation and anti-inflammatories often play the key role in symptomatic relief, but a well-fitting, supportive shoe may help reduce stress on the knees during activities.”
If you experience any of the following symptoms of OA, see a healthcare professional:
joint pain or aches
decreased range of motion
swelling around your joints
Age, genetics, and joint overuse can all increase your risk of developing OA. But seeing a healthcare professional for treatment can help you manage pain with physical therapy and medications.
What are the best shoes to wear if you have arthritis in your feet?
Schaeffer stands by his picks for knee pain (Asics, Brooks, and HOKA) when it comes to other types of pain too. In general, shoes for arthritic feet should include cushion and arch support.
What are the best insoles for osteoarthritis?
“I am a big fan of Dr. Scholl’s insoles … Osteoarthritis knee pain is due to wear and tear. If you support your feet properly, it will alleviate pain everywhere: your feet, knees, hips, and lower back,” Schaeffer says.
How do you choose the right amount of arch support?
If you’re daunted by the arch support options available and worried about just how much you need, the answer isn’t a specific product or height. Instead, focus on finding arch support that puts your foot in a neutral position.
Are there any shoe styles that people with arthritis should avoid?
According to Schaeffer, people with arthritis should avoid any shoe that’s flat or doesn’t have cushioning. A lack of support in your feet can have a cascading effect on your whole body and lead to additional pain over time.
Can walking make osteoarthritis worse?
The short answer is yes. “Whenever you have osteoarthritis, it is due to wear and tear, and it can definitely be made worse,” Schaeffer says.
However, it can get a little better when you move around with proper footwear. It’s important to create a good foundation for your feet, and that will, in turn, support your whole body more efficiently.
Investing in a pair of comfortable running or walking shoes is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for those with knee or back pain. Whether you want a walking or a running shoe to alleviate pain, look for designs that offer arch support, cushion, and motion control.
Still, even the best pair of shoes won’t solve all your knee problems. It’s important to consult a healthcare professional if you have OA or knee or back pain. They can help you set up other treatments and potentially help you get fitted for custom orthotics.
Last medically reviewed on May 19, 2023
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