Proper Footwear for Arthritis Sufferers

While wearing well-fitting footwear is a good idea for anyone, it's particularly important for people with arthritis. Since arthritis can affect the feet, knees, and back, shoes that don't offer adequate support can make this condition unnecessarily painful and possibly even worsen it. And since exercise is an important component of an arthritis treatment program, you should pay particular attention to your sneakers. What should you look for next time you're in the market for a new pair of athletic shoes?

First, consider the location of your arthritic joints, particularly if your knees are the problem. "Arthritis can affect the inside (medial) compartment of the knee, or the outside (lateral) compartment of the knee," explains Dr. Michael Parks, an assistant attending surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Medial-compartment arthritis is more common, so in this case a patient might get special lateral-wedge inserts for his or her shoes that will redirect the pressure exerted by the leg hitting the ground. With the inserts, the load shifts from the inside of the knee outward, reducing pain. Arthritis patients may also be able to find sneakers that offer lots of support and are heavily padded on the outer edges for reduced knee pressure.

When it comes to choosing the right sneaker, also consider the kind of exercise you'll be doing. Running and anything high impact may not be the best workout choices for you, but if you engage in them, at least make sure your feet are appropriately cushioned. "Make sure [your footwear is] current, that the shoes are not worn out and that they still have the ability to absorb impact," Dr. Parks says. "The more active you are, the more worn your shoes are." Your best bet? Go to a running store or other sports specialty store with a knowledgeable sales staff who can guide you to the best sneakers for your specific problems.

Assuming you can't live in sneakers 24-7, what about other types of shoes? Even dress shoes can be fitted with proper orthotic insoles, so don't shy away from fancier styles for work or evening. But think twice about donning flip-flops which, although they're stylish and great for hot weather, provide almost no support.


Michael L. Parks, MD, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York