Lots of Americans suffer from painful arthritic knees, but a new study finds that wearing the right type of shoe may help ease discomfort.
Patients with knee arthritis will achieve greater pain relief by opting for sturdy and supportive shoes rather than flat flexible footwear, researchers in Australia found.
“A ‘sturdy supportive shoe’ is a shoe that gives stability to the foot, via motion control features such as arch support,” explains study author Rana Hinman, a professor of physiotherapy at the University of Melbourne. “It also has a thick, cushioned heel and a rigid sole that does not bend easily.”
In contrast, Hinman notes, “a ‘flat flexible shoe’ is more lightweight, contains no arch support or motion control features, has a low heel (i.e., flat) with minimal/no cushioning and has a flexible sole that bends easily.”
Roughly 1 in 4 adults over the age of 45 has arthritic knees, Hinman notes.
One U.S. expert unconnected to the study agrees that “bum knees” will probably feel better with special footwear.
“I think it’s pretty intuitive that a structured shoe will be more stable and better for arthritis patients,” says Dr. Jeffrey Schildhorn, an orthopedic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “I’ve found that to be true in my practice and in my life. But this study is the first to really look at this in a rigorous way, and to show with good science that this isn’t just anecdotal.”
Foot support matters
As the Australian team notes, people with creaky, painful knees are often advised to wear shoes with support. But there’s also a school of thought that flat flexible shoes may deliver greater benefit because they provide more of a “barefoot” experience.
The latter theory didn’t win out in the new study. After working with 164 knee arthritis patients in the Melbourne area, Hinman’s team found that “58% of people who wore sturdy supportive shoes experienced a meaningful reduction in knee pain while walking, compared to only 40% of the people who wore flat flexible shoes.”
Study participants were 50 years old and older. Prior to the study’s launch, all had experienced near-constant knee pain in the prior month (rated at a 4 or greater on a pain scale of 11), and most had worn shoes that featured a mix of sturdy and flat characteristics.
Between 2017 and 2019, half were randomly assigned to wear a flat flexible shoe for at least