Arthritis Footwear: How to Find the Right Shoes (2024)

Arthritis can affect many different joints in the body, including those in the feet. The most common types of arthritis that affect the feet include osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and post-traumatic arthritis.

Arthritis of the feet can have a big impact on a person’s ability to complete everyday tasks because our feet provide support, shock absorption, balance, and other functions that are important to motion. Wearing the right shoes can help ease the symptoms of foot arthritis and preserve mobility. However, the wrong shoes can worsen arthritis pain and accelerate disease progression.

Joint Pain in the Feet: A Symptom of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis Footwear: How to Find the Right Shoes (1)

How Shoes Impact Arthritis

Research has found that foot orthotics (such as foot braces) and specialized footwear may benefit people with arthritis by changing muscle activation and gait patterns to reduce the amount of pressure placed on foot joints.

A literature review that included 1,440 studies on the effectiveness of footwear as an intervention for foot and ankle arthritis concluded that footwear interventions are associated with reductions in foot pain, impairment, and disability in people with rheumatoid arthritis, and improvements to foot pain and function in those with osteoarthritis. The shoes in these studies included off-the-shelf footwear, therapeutic footwear, and therapeutic footwear combined with a foot orthosis.

However, the authors pointed out that there is more evidence supporting the use of footwear interventions for RA than OA and gout, and that there are no studies of footwear interventions for other forms of arthritis.

Ensuring a Proper Fit

To ensure a proper fit, you have to check the length, width, and instep of the shoes you are considering getting.

A 2018 study revealed about 63% to 72% of people wear shoes that don’t fit based on length and width. You’ll notice these signs if your shoes are too short or narrow for your feet:

  • Bruising on the toes or feet
  • Toenail damage
  • Blisters
  • Calluses
  • Skin irritation

Bring a paper tracing of your foot when you go shoe shopping, and put it in the shoes you are looking at to see how they compare to the size and shape of your feet.

The other thing to check is instep, which is the top part of a shoe that fits over the area between the ball and the ankle of the foot. The size and shape of this part of the foot can vary, especially during a flare-up, during which swelling of the feet can occur. It’s therefore important to find shoes with an adjustable instep. For example, sneakers and therapeutic shoes for arthritis offer adjustable insteps with laces or Velcro straps.

Get a Professional Fitting

To take out the guesswork in your footwear, enlist the help of a podiatrist. While you can find your fit using the Brannock device available at most shoe stores, a podiatrist can use their expertise to find the best shoes for your feet and condition. They will also take measurements of your foot to ensure the best fit.

How to Find a Qualified Podiatrist

What to Look For

You’ll want to consider the shape, soles, and support when choosing shoes that won’t exacerbate your condition and will actually improve your symptoms.

Be sure to account for bunions, hammertoes, or any other deformed joints in the foot when choosing shoes. If you have any of these issues, you’ll need shoes that have a roomy toe box. Don’t be afraid to get wide or even extra-wide shoes, but never go up a size for more width. This will throw off your flex point, the spot in the sole of the shoe that’s supposed to bend where your toe joints bend. If your shoes bend at a different spot, you will have even more problems.

Stick with rubber- or rocker-soled shoes. Rubber soles act as a shock absorber, while rocker soles are great for redistributing plantar pressure. Also, look for shoes with removable insoles. They allow you to swap in your own customized insoles to evenly distribute weight and take the pressure off pain points. Research has shown that thin, customized insoles offer immense foot pain relief for people with RA.

Supportive shoes will have thick soles, arch support, and enough space for your heel.

What Are Stability Shoes?

Stability shoes have a dense midsole and heel. They can control the motion of the foot and prevent rolling inward. Stability shoes are a good option for some, but not all people with arthritis. These shoes take weight off the ball of the foot, which can help those with hip, knee, foot, or ankle arthritis. However, they may be helpful to those who don’t have a problem with overpronation (the ankle rolls too far inward and downward with each step).

What to Avoid

If you’re in pain, high heels are generally not a good option. Even the most comfortable high heels can also pose an issue. Research has found that high heels contribute to joint degeneration and increased risk of osteoarthritis. They can also worsen existing foot problems like hammertoes and bunions. If you have to wear heels, opt for low heels (1 to 1.5 inches) and choose rubber soles when possible.

Another type of shoe to avoid are those with a tight toe box. With these shoes, your feet are put into an unnatural position that causes pain and may lead to bunions, hammertoes, and other foot problems.

Other Things to Consider

Arthritis can cause pain in more than one joint. For those living with arthritis in multiple joints, like the back or hands, it can be difficult to put on shoes. There are alternatives and helpful ways to put on shoes. You may want to consider one of the following:

  • Velcro shoes
  • Shoes with side zippers
  • Long-handled shoe horn

Velcro Shoes for Women

A Word From Verywell

Shoes are an easy and effective intervention for arthritis that affects your feet. It’s time to take a look in your closet and examine the shoes you have. Podiatrists are familiar with concerns of people with arthritis in the feet and are trained to assist you with finding shoes that will help you in your daily life. Turn to a professional to get properly sized and find shoes that will ease pain and not aid in the progression of your disease.

Arthritis Footwear: How to Find the Right Shoes (2024)


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