There is no shortage of opinions out there about magic shoes that will help your knee arthritis. You can buy anything from cheap shoes to really expensive support shoes, or you can even buy hyper-expensive, custom knee arthritis shoes that are supposed to take the forces off sensitive parts of an arthritic knee. But how do you know which ones actually work? Until recently, we haven’t had a good understanding of which option is best, but now, two new studies suggest that cheap is the way to go. Let’s take a peek inside these studies.
How Shoes Might Help Knee Arthritis
Patients often forget that how their foot hits the ground determines how forces hit the knee. They believe that since their knee hurts, that’s where the problem must be. However, in many patients, the problem is as likely to be in their foot and ankle as their knee.
Take a look at your foot right now. Place one hand around the bone just under your knee and turn your ankle inward and outward. Notice how this knee bone moves as you move the foot. Hence, it’s not hard to see how what happens at the foot might impact the knee.
Expensive Shoes vs. Cheap Shoes: Two Studies for Patients with Knee Arthritis
In the first new study, expensive unloading shoes were researched. How expensive? Thousands of dollars. Unloading shoes reduce the load, or reduce the pressure, on the arthritic area of the knee when walking. They have strange, modified shapes on the bottom (in the midsole area) that are supposed to help with this unloading effect. The randomized controlled trial of these custom shoes versus everyday shoes showed no benefit to the joint when wearing the expensive custom variety when compared to a pair of good ole’ cheap walking shoes.
The second new study used sophisticated biomechanical analysis to measure the forces that tend to make inside-knee arthritis (medial-knee osteoarthritis) worse. Amazingly, the flat and flexible shoes (read cheap) performed better than the stable and supportive counterparts (read more expensive).
So not only do the pricey and custom options not reduce pressure on the arthritic knee joints more than the cheap and conventional options, but they may be increasing forces on the knee, which may worsen arthritis. So you may be wearing an expensive shoe that does the opposite of what it claims to do.
Are High Heels and Barefoot Shoes No-Nos for Patients with Knee Arthritis?
Not necessarily. In addition to the expensive shoes being no better than the cheap ones, these are other shoes you may have been misled about when it comes to knee arthritis. High heels, for example, have been implicated as causing all sorts of problems. One of those is that high heels cause knee arthritis, but is this true? A couple of years ago, I covered a study showing the opposite—that high heels may provide protection against knee arthritis. And what about barefoot shoes? Are they good knee arthritis shoes? We can take a page from the barefoot-running trend. One study showed that barefoot-running shoes reduced the load on the kneecap, so barefoot shoes, in general, may potentially provide some knee-load protection up front, whether you’re walking or running.
The upshot? Don’t be afraid of the deals on shoes at your local Walmart. Buying flat and flexible walking shoes without all of that fancy support stuff or big and stable bottoms seems to be the way to go for knee arthritis shoes.