Shoes Make a Difference

By Joseph Gustaitis

Shoes Make a Difference

A lot of people buy shoes because of how stylish they look. Others buy them for a specific purpose, such as running or workplace safety. But the results of a new study recently presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology suggest some people might want to buy them for how they might help their knee osteoarthritis.

The research was conducted by specialists at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. They were interested in finding out, when it came to knee pain, if there was any difference between flat, flexible shoes and shoes with stiff soles. They recruited 50 participants for the study: 22 of them were given what the researchers called “mobility shoes”—shoes with flexible soles that allowed the feet to bend in the same way as if the wearer were barefoot. The other 28 patients were fitted with a shoe that looked just the same as the first, except for one crucial difference—this shoe had a metal plate in the sole that reduced bending.

After the subjects wore the shoes for 48 weeks, the researchers found those who wore the mobility shoes had experienced more improvements that those who wore the stiff-soled shoes. In addition, the mobility shoe wearers saw a reduction in the load on their knees.

The new study was a follow up to an earlier one conducted by the same specialists. In that study, they compared five types of walking. The first was barefoot. The others involved four kinds of shoes: flat walking shoes, flip-flops, clogs and stability shoes (stiff-soled shoes often recommended for comfort and stability). The study found the loads on the knee joints were up to 15% higher with the clogs and stability shoes.

Why the difference? The lead researcher of the study said heel height is one factor—higher heels might lead to greater loads on the knees. Another element to be considered is stiffness. Because barefoot walking has been shown to be associated with lower knee loads, it’s likely the flat walking shoes and the flip-flops, because they allow the foot to flex, more closely mimic the experience of walking barefoot. The researchers did point out, however, that flip-flops, because they fit so loosely, might make the wearer more likely to fall. Nevertheless, they concluded people suffering from knee osteoarthritis might want to think about trading in their stiff-soled shoes for lightweight, flexible ones.

Last Reviewed 02/29/16

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Joseph Gustaitis, a freelance writer and editor in the Chicago area.

Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

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