Arthritis pain in the ankles, toes, or knees can make shoe shopping quite a chore. While less-severe cases may not need specific shoes right away, others who experience pain when wearing their normal shoes might want to consider arthritis-specific shoes. Here is the lowdown on what to look for, and how to shop for the best shoes for arthritis.
How to tell if you have arthritis in your ankles, toes, or knees
Rheumatoid arthritis is a common cause of many foot conditions that require special attention. Bunions and Claw Toe are two of the most common and easiest to spot, though you should always have a podiatrist do the actual diagnosis (we know, in the age of WebMD, it can be tempting to self-diagnose — but you may find yourself misled by what you read online and buying things you don’t need).
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), deformities in the feet are among the more obvious signs of RA. “More than 90% of people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) develop symptoms in the foot and ankle over the course of the disease,” the academy says in this article. While the specific cause of your RA may never be known, it is important that you speak with a doctor if you think you might be affected.
Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the feet include:
- Fatigue when dressing, undressing, or getting in and out of bed
- Pain when moving the joints in your ankles or toes
- Morning stiffness
- Joints feeling hot to the touch
- You notice these symptoms on both feet
Try to track these symptoms over a period of time, noting when and where you feel the discomfort, and bring these notes with you to the doctor.
The best shoes for arthritis and the science behind them
Now that we’ve covered common symptoms, it’s onto the fun part — finding shoes to make everyday life more comfortable. Fortunately, many studies have been conducted surrounding the best shoes for arthritis, and the results have become quite specific. In cases of arthritis in the knees, the best shoes tend to be stiff and cushioned. According to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, shoes that were supportive and stable, and had extra cushioning, performed best on a group of 164 men and women with an average age of 65.
The New York Times analyzed the study and reported some of the best shoes for arthritis as being the ASICS Kayano, the Merrell Jungle Moc, the Rockport Edge Hill, the Nike Air Max 90 Ultra, and the New Balance 624. Of course, these are only the shoes used in the AIM study, there are many others that could meet the criteria.
If you wear boots at work or for other activities, consider high-ankle boots that offer firm support, and that have padded cushioning in the soles. Hiking boots tend to do well for active lifestyles, while Plantar Fasciitis-specific boots can work well for more casual engagements.
One important thing to keep in mind is that while a pair of shoes or boots may need a little breaking in to feel comfortable, at no point should the shoes feel painful. If a short walk in a certain pair appears to make your pain or discomfort worse, take them off and keep looking.
Below, we offer a broader view on finding and buying shoes to treat your arthritis pain.
Tips for finding and buying the best shoes for arthritis
The first thing to be aware of when shoe shopping is to find shoes that offer a lot of support around the ankle. Brands like Orthofeet, Gravity Defyer, and KURU Footwear are a great place to start. Each makes shoes for a variety of sizes that are designed to prevent your ankles from tweaking, rolling, and shifting during normal, everyday movement.
For those who spend a lot of time active and on their feet at work, indoors — say you work in a restaurant kitchen — Klogs provide a good amount of comfort and versatility while still maintaining that needed arch support.
Shoes with rocker soles are great for housework and general errands. You may need to visit a specialty shoe store like DSW Shoe Warehouse in order to find options that fit your specific size and needs. If you have a shopping mall nearby, make a list of on-site shoe stores and block off a morning or afternoon to visit a few of them and peruse the options. Speak with the sales reps to see what they recommend.
If you have a bunion, hammertoe, or any other condition that alters your foot shape, you will need to pay particular attention to how the shoes fit your feet. You want support around the ankles, but will need a larger toe box so as not to squeeze the protruding part of your foot.
If your feet are of noticeable different sizes, you may even want to consider having custom shoes made for yourself, if you can afford it. There are companies such as Crary that specialize in creating custom shoes based on a person’s specifics and that are accustomed to making shoes for those with arthritis in the knees or ankles.