If you have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in your lower body, chances are you have foot pain as well. In fact, studies show that 90% of rheumatoid arthritis patients experience foot pain.1
Why shoe choice is important
The purpose of inserts and supportive shoes is to help you engage the right muscles when you're standing or walking. They also help correct your gait to minimize the stress, or "load," on your joints.
Research suggests that orthotics (shoe inserts) and supportive footwear can play an important role in reducing pain and improving walking abilities for patients with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in any weight-bearing joint, such as the foot, ankle, knee, or hip.
Shoe traits to look for
Use the following checklist to help you find the right footwear and better manage your rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis:
Shoe inserts that are custom made for your feet have a good track record for helping people with RA, so your doctor will probably recommend them. The orthotics can be rigid or soft. Each type has different advantages to correct gait and pressure problems caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Look for shoes that offer a thick, cushioned sole. Consider orthopedic, or extra depth, shoes if you have RA. These styles have been shown to reduce arthritic foot pain and improve gait. If you don't like their clunky appearance, look for athletic shoes that are designed to provide stability.
Shoes with firm insoles and robust arch support can relieve pain by keeping pressure off the ball of your foot, a common source of arthritic foot pain. Arch support can also help prevent flat feet/fallen arches, which can be caused by arthritis. However, if you have orthotics, keep in mind that you’ll need to look for shoes with removable insoles in order to insert the orthotics.
There is one exception to this rule: According to one study, people with knee osteoarthritis had the greatest knee load while wearing clogs or stability shoes, and the least load in flats, flip-flops, or while barefoot.2 If you have knee osteoarthritis, you may be better off in shoes with a more mobile insole.
Experts agree that the higher the heel, the worse it is for your foot. This rule is true for everyone, including those with arthritis. If you want to wear heels, choose a pair with these features:
- Less than 2 inches tall
- Rubber soles
- A wide, stacked heel
- Comfortable toe box (not pointed)
Roomy toe box
Many people with arthritis have toe problems, which can include swollen toe joints or deformities such as bunions or hammertoes. For this reason, it's important to look for shoes with a generous toe box that doesn't put added pressure on your toes.
In fact, those with osteoarthritis may benefit from a shoe that's extra wide throughout the foot bed in order to cushion degenerating joints.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis in your hands, it may be too difficult for you to tie shoelaces. In this case, seek out shoes with Velcro closures or non-tie bungee laces. You can also try slip-on shoes with a closed back, such as clogs, but you may need a shoehorn to help get them on. Look for shoehorns with a long handle so you don't have to bend down as far.
Get help finding the right shoe for you
If you're not sure which shoe is the best choice for your unique needs, talk with your doctor or physical therapist.
You can also look for products that have the Seal of Approval from the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).
- "Prevalence and course of forefoot impairments and walking disability in the first eight years of rheumatoid arthritis." Arthritis Rheum. 2008;59(11):1596–1602
- "Effects of common footwear on joint loading in osteoarthritis of the knee." Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken) 2010;62(7):917–923.