Sneakers, pumps, sandals, boots, loafers – the choices are many when it comes to footwear. A lot of us (especially women) choose style over comfort, which can be harmful to the body. If you have conditions like an osteoarthritic knee, the wrong footwear can do even more harm. So, the next time you go shoe shopping, while keeping it fun, remember to pay more attention to your health as what you wear on your feet can have an impact on the knees.
Footwear That Doesn’t Fit Your Knees
The knee joints are one of the largest in the body, and they are responsible for supporting the body weight as you walk and stand. Your body weight is distributed to your feet, too. So, wearing inappropriate footwear can cause discomfort on your feet, affecting posture and gait (the manner of walking). This becomes a serious issue if you have conditions of the knee like osteoarthritis.
Research has shown that common footwear has an effect on the severity and progression of osteoarthritis of the knee.1 The study involved 10 men and 21 women with osteoarthritis knee pain who were asked to wear 4 types of footwear: clogs, stability shoes, flat walking shoes, and flip-flops. The study reported that clogs and stability shoes increased the joint load while walking, worsening the knee condition.
Women are at a higher risk, probably two times more than men, of developing osteoarthritis.2 Could this be because women tend to choose high heels over comfortable sneakers? A study conducted on 20 healthy women who preferred high-heeled shoes showed that there was an increased force applied to the knees. This force can cause knee pain or worsen existing knee conditions.
Comfortable walking shoes are as good as unloading shoes for osteoarthritic knees.
If you have an osteoarthritic knee or know of someone who has the condition, you might be familiar with unloading shoes. These are shoes that are equipped with stiffer-than-normal soles and shock-absorbing inserts. Is it better than walking shoes? According to one study that compared the effect of unloading shoes and walking shoes on knee osteoarthritis, both footwear had almost the same effect on the knee, with a significant reduction in pain and improve physical function.3
What To Look For In A Walking Shoe
If you find walking easier and less painful with walking shoes, there are certain specifications that can help further reduce your knee pain. Look for the following features in a walking shoe:4
- A “stability-type” sneaker with a rigid sole and supportive insole
- A slightly curved “rocker” sole that helps the body distribute its weight more evenly while walking (not suitable if you have balance issues)
While it is important to choose the right footwear, it is also important that it fits well. Keep these factors in mind:
- Enough room for the toes
- At least half an inch space beyond your longest toe
- A solid area around your heel (called a heel counter), so your foot stays in place, doesn’t slip around, and cause friction and pain
If you are worried about wearing walking shoes to a party or any other special occasion, there are other safe options.
Other Footwear Options For Osteoarthritic Knees
If walking shoes are not your personal favorites for everyday use, try these knee-friendly options for a change.
- Flats: Look for three important things in your flat shoes – shock absorption, cushioning, and arch support. A sturdy sole with enough flexibility is also something to look out for while purchasing flat footwear.
- Sandals: Sandals with a solid sole and back straps may be a good option to walk in style without increasing your knee pain.
- Flip-flops: While flip-flops provide the least knee load, they may increase the risk of falls.
- Flexible men’s dress shoes: For men, flexible, soft dress shoes may be a comfortable option for the knees.
Keeping physically active is essential for all, especially for those with bone and joint pain. Whether you are trying to prevent joint conditions or already have an existing one, getting a pair of the right shoes can make your feet feel comfortable and get you going on your routine walks!
|↑1||Shakoor, Najia, Mondira Sengupta, Kharma C. Foucher, Markus A. Wimmer, Louis F. Fogg, and Joel A. Block. “Effects of common footwear on joint loading in osteoarthritis of the knee.” Arthritis care & research 62, no. 7 (2010): 917-923.|
|↑2||Srikanth, Velandai K., Jayne L. Fryer, Guangju Zhai, Tania M. Winzenberg, David Hosmer, and Graeme Jones. “A meta-analysis of sex differences prevalence, incidence and severity of osteoarthritis.” Osteoarthritis and cartilage 13, no. 9 (2005): 769-781.|
|↑3||Hinman, Rana S., Tim V. Wrigley, Ben R. Metcalf, Penny K. Campbell, Kade L. Paterson, David J. Hunter, Jessica Kasza, Andrew Forbes, and Kim L. Bennell. “Unloading Shoes for Self-management of Knee Osteoarthritis A Randomized Trial Unloading Shoes for Self-management of Knee Osteoarthritis.” Annals of internal medicine 165, no. 6 (2016): 381-389.|
|↑4||Beating osteoarthritis knee pain: Beyond special shoes. Harvard Medical School.|