Some experts recommend flat, flexible shoes for people with knee osteoarthritis, while others say sturdy, supportive shoes are better. Now a randomized study has found that the latter – a stiff and stable shoe with good cushioning – is better than a supple and pliable one.
Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease in the United States. According to a recent estimate, 14 million Americans suffer from the pain and stiffness of knee arthritis.
Australian researchers randomly assigned 164 men and women, with an average age of 65 years, to wear a flexible or stiff shoe for at least six hours a day for six months. Shoes in the flat shoes category included the Merrell Bare Access, Vivobarefoot Primus Lite, Vivobarefoot Mata Canvas, Lacoste Marice, and Converse Dainty Low. The stable support groups included the ASICS Kayano, Merrell Jungle Moc, Rockport Edge Hill, Nike Air Max 90 Ultra, and New Balance 624.
Before and after the study, the researchers administered questionnaires and scales to measure pain, function, and comfort. The report is in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The researchers found that 58 percent of those who wore sturdy shoes experienced clinically significant pain reduction compared to 40 percent who wore flexible shoes. When evaluating the function, 11 percent of the more stable shoe wearers reported improvements. Those who wore sturdy shoes were also less likely to report other problems: 15 percent of those who wore stable shoes reported problems such as knee swelling, ankle or foot pain, or pain in other parts of the body caused by the shoes, compared with 32 percent of those who did wear flexible shoes.
Senior author, Rana S. Hinman, professor of physical therapy at the University of Melbourne, said that while a supportive shoe is helpful, it is not a substitute for other effective strategies such as weight control and exercise.
Still, she said, “Based on our clinical study, people with knee osteoarthritis should rather wear sturdy, supportive shoes with thicker padded soles than flat shoes with thin, flexible soles without padding.”