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Osteoarthritis can affect any of the foot joints, but more commonly affects the big toes. The big toe joints are more prone to heavy wear and tear from the pressure that comes from walking, especially if you tend to roll your foot inward when you walk (over-pronate). Over time, your big toes may become very stiff (hallux rigidus) and rigid, making it difficult to walk. Alternatively, you may find that your big toes drift towards the other toes (hallux valgus) which sometimes leads to bunions.

It is always recommended to seek professional medical advice if you think you are suffering from osteoarthritis. Your GP may suggest you take steroids or painkillers to ease the pain. Gels and creams are also available which should be rubbed onto the affected painful joints, providing relief. Ideally, you would be seen by a combination of podiatrists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and rheumatologists to establish the best course of action and treatment for your specific condition.

Besides medical intervention, there is something else we can do to relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Seeking out the best footwear is an easy way to give your body the support and comfort it needs, while minimising pressure on joints and reducing inflammation and discomfort in the arthritic joints and throughout the entire body.

Anatomy of the feet

Our feet are extraordinary, with each foot being composed of 33 joints, 26 bones and 19 tendons and muscles. They root our bodies to the ground, supporting our skeleton and providing mobility and balance. Yet we are quick to abuse or neglect them, forcing them into badly fitting footwear that focuses more on style than comfort.

With so many of us guilty of wearing fabulous shoes to a special occasion, only to kick them off the first chance we get, we are a society that understands how painful the wrong pair of shoes can be. This is even more relevant when selecting shoes, if you have arthritic feet.

Footwear - Shoes For OA - OA Knee Pain Bones of the right foot (lateral view)

Insoles, wedges and braces

Insoles and wedges may be beneficial for patients with unicompartmental knee OA as they can provide unloading of the affected compartment. The amount of unloading offered will vary depending on the thickness of the insole / wedge but has been proven to provide 3 – 4% unloading.

If symptomatic ankle pathologies are present then insoles may not be the treatment of choice. Insoles can be combined with an unloading knee brace as the combination has been proven to be beneficial in biomechanical studies.

Knee ankle foot orthosis seem to have a higher unloading effect, but currently there is limited clinical data available.

Which are the best shoes for arthritis?

While many people concentrate on eating a healthy nutritious diet and doing plenty of exercise to improve their quality of life, paying attention to your footwear could also improve your wellbeing. Shoes can be a modifying factor when it comes to minimising pain and maximising your ability to get out and about and do things.

For people with arthritis in their feet, ankles, knees or hips, wearing the wrong shoes can exacerbate problems that already exist and can cause complications and long term damage to a variety of joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments beyond the feet. Wearing the right shoes can eliminate or reduce foot pain, which also affects the body’s mobility and function.

Footwear to relieve osteoarthritis pain

The 28 bones in each foot interact with each other painlessly, due to the presence of elastic smooth cartilage between the joints. When someone develops osteoarthritis, the cartilage starts to lose its elasticity. Initial symptoms often begin with a stiff foot, but as cartilage starts breaking down from general wear and tear, the joints in the foot become inflamed, leading to swelling, inflammation and pain.

Osteoarthritis in the feet should be taken seriously right from the outset, as it often indicates an increased risk of going on to develop other painful conditions of the feet, such as hallux rigidus, hammertoes, bunions and other feet deformities.

Shoe specifics

Decent osteoarthritis shoes need to have outstanding shock absorption to reduce the strain put upon the already damaged and fragile cartilage. Opt for shoes with an adjustable strap or lace-up fastenings as they will help keep your heels in place and prevent your toes from being pushed up against the front of your shoes. Shoes need to provide good arch support, preventing the feet from flattening fully. They should be loose fitting and have around a centimetre of space between your toes and the front of the shoe to prevent pressure points. The width of the shoe is crucial to finding a good fit, so be sure to ask for a wide or extra wide pair of shoes, if required. If you are suffering from swollen feet, a stretchable shoe is a good choice, to accommodate changes in foot shape and size.

A good pair of osteoarthritis shoes is also very beneficial to people suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee, as these shoes will minimise discomfort and cause less strain to the joints. People with osteoarthritis in the knees may also find that wearing a knee brace relieves pain and inflammation.

With so many shoe types out there, it is difficult to know what is the best shoe for you, especially if you are suffering from osteoarthritis. Here are some painful and pleasing features of several different types of shoes. By choosing the right footwear for your condition, you are a step closer to having healthier feet, as well as a less painful, more mobile and happier self.

Low heels

These produce similar problems to that of the high heel, but to a lesser degree. Include a sharp, pointed toe and you are likely to experience even more discomfort. Feet distort into the shape of a shoe and pointed shoes can cause conditions such as hammer toes and pinched nerves. It’s simple - if a shoe hurts your foot, it’s damaging it. If you decide to wear low heels, choose wedge heels, rubber soles and spacious toe boxes. These styles are less likely to slip and the larger, grippy soles add stability, absorb shock and lessen the forces applied to certain pressure points.

High heels

Experts are unanimous in their opinion of high heels - they are bad for everyone’s feet. For people with osteoarthritis, they are even worse. They are hard on the ball of the foot and the arch, and wearing them wears down joints. Studies have shown that wearing high heels and stilettos contribute to arthritis and foot pain. Knee degeneration is more common in women who regularly wear high heels and lower back pain is also prevalent. Choosing a healthier shoe could prevent you from future bouts of foot pain.

Footwear - Shoes For Arthritic Feet UK - OA Knee Pain Experts are unanimous in their opinion of high heels - they are bad for everyone’s feet

Flats

While flat is good, you need three things in your flat shoe: shock absorption, cushioning and arch support. It must have a sturdy sole that cannot be twisted or folded in half, but equally there must be some flexibility to the shoe too. An insole can provide extra cushioning if required.

Sandals

Choose sandals that have plenty of support and not just a sole and a few pieces of strappy leather holding your foot in place. Straps can help customise your sandal for a better fit, but they must include a back strap or your toes will over-grip, encouraging hammertoes and foot strain.

Flip flops

These are probably best for those people who have no issues with their balance or their feet. Flip flops are not very stable and increase the risk of falling in those with weakened joints. However, people with osteoarthritis may benefit from wearing flip flops or no shoes at all, as higher loads cause more pain and arthritic progression and damage. Wearing flip flops can reduce knee load by roughly the same percentage as going barefoot, so these shoes may be beneficial. Choose a specifically designed flip flop that provides fantastic arch support, as well as pronation control. These have even been proven to help relieve plantar fasciitis pain.

Trainers

There are a range of trainers that can be of some benefit to people with osteoarthritis. The thick cushioned heel and midsole help control over-pronation and motion. These stability shoes can cause more stress to knee joints than flatter shoes do, so beware if you have arthritic knees. Some sports stores offer digital, high-tech foot scans that can determine any pronation or biomechanics problems that you may have. A custom-made orthotic or insert can easily be accommodated in trainers.

Footwear - Shoes For Osteoarthritis - OA Knee Pain There are a range of trainers that can be of some benefit to people with osteoarthritis

Boots

These can be a stabilising, healthy option for people with knee or ankle issues. Choose boots that have low, wedged heels and rubber soles, or flat boots with decent arch support. Sturdy but flexible boots give the best ankle support.

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