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Why the right shoes matter

Treating osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee may require medication and rehabilitation, but the right choice of shoe can also go a long way.

According to research from 2009Trusted Source, the right shoes or insoles can help decrease the pressure put on the knees and help with pain caused by OA of the knee.

How we chose

We’ve rounded up the 10 best walking and running shoe brands for bad knees and OA pain, and included advice on how to make the right choice when shopping for a pair of shoes. These shoes were selected by our editors and by user favorites.

Healthline’s picks for best shoe brands for OA

New Balance

New Balance shoes are highly recommended for those with knee pain.

“My foot doctor insists I wear New Balance with built-in rollbar. They are in the 800 series,” wrote reader and total knee replacement candidate Suzanne Davidson.

Reader Barb Coenen, and others who’ve also had both knees replaced, say that they’ve had “great luck with shoes by New Balance.”

New Balance 813 walking shoe offers motion-control technology, supportive cushioning, and leather uppers (which means the upper part of the shoe is made out of leather).

Shop for New Balance shoes online.

Brooks

It’s not just doctors who swear by Brooks shoes. Healthline readers do too. “After my two knee replacements, my surgeon suggested Brooks Adrenaline and/or Brooks Glycerin shoes,” says reader Lynnea Christensen. “They are a little ‘spendy’ but the support is phenomenal and comfort is awesome!”

Brooks Glycerine optimizes pressure distribution from heel to forefoot, while the Adrenaline’s extended diagonal rollbar is designed to offer extra stability.

Shop for Brooks shoes online.

Asics Gel

Runners and walkers who have knee pain recommend shoes from Asics Gel-equipped collections, such as the Gel-Quickwalk, Gel-Foundation Walker 3, and the Gel-Nimbus.

The collection launched in the mid-1980s and has since expanded to offer more shoes for a variety of sports, including tennis and volleyball.

Shop for Asics Gel shoes online.

Vionic with Orthaheel Technology

Formerly known as Orthaheel, Vionic with Orthaheel Technology are an affordable alternative to custom orthotic shoes.

“If you don’t have prescription orthotics, they’re the best,” says reader Diane Grasely. “I can even walk my dog wearing their flip-flops with built-in arch.”

Shop for Vionic with Orthaheel Technology shoes online.

Skechers

Skechers are known for their ability to flex and twist, promoting a natural stride when you walk. Sketchers GOwalk is an especially popular option for those with knee problems, including reader Penny Letchford.

This lightweight slip-on features a roomy forefoot and sock liner that’s designed to prevent odor and slippage.

Shop for Skechers shoes online.

Puma

Besides being stylish and trendy, Puma offers sneakers and runners that are lightweight and flexible.

In a 2010 studyTrusted Source on 31 people, researchers tested the H-Street Puma and found that flat and flexible footwear, like the H-Street Puma, significantly reduces the load on the knee joints, compared with supportive stability shoes with less flexible soles.

The study also found that loads on the knee joints were 15 percent less when wearing flip-flops, flat walking shoes, or walking barefoot.

It should be noted that this is a small study, and although these shoes can improve the load on your joints, flip-flops can increase the risk of tripping. Wearing flat shoes can also worsen conditions like plantar fasciitis.

Although the H-Street is now discontinued, the 76 Runner is similar to the H-Street and is available for both men and women.

Shop for Puma shoes online.

Gravity Defyer

Online company Gravity Defyer sells casual and dress footwear for men and women, along with orthotic insoles. Reader Dottie Brand Burns swears by the brand and owns their boots, athletic shoes, and sandals.

Shop for Gravity Defyer shoes online.

Nike Air

Reader Jean Compton is just one of the many whose doctors have recommended Nike Airs. These shoes offer added cushioning and come in an impressive range of styles and colors for running and other activities.

Shop for Nike Air shoes online.

Merrell

Merrell offers athletic and casual styles in shoes, boots, sandals, and clogs. Reader Deanna Daisher Borton recommends their shoes, while reader Lisa Bassoff Obermeier favors their clogs.

For those who benefit from a flexible, minimalist shoe, Merrell Bareform is a line of “barefoot” running shoes.

Shop for Merrell shoes online.

Clarks

The creator of the world’s first comfort shoe back in the 1960s, Clarks remains a top pick for those with knee problems. The Wallabee is the company’s original and most popular style, but they also offer comfort shoes in athletic styles for walkers and runners.

Shop for Clarks shoes online.

Choosing the right shoe for you

It’s important to understand that not everyone’s needs are exactly the same.

“When shopping for walking or running shoes, it’s important to consider the fact that each individual may vary in terms of the type and location of arthritis in their knees,” says Dr. Miho J. Tanaka, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and the director of the women’s sports medicine program at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

She recommends using assessments offered at athletic shoe stores.

“There are different compartments in the knee that can be affected, and depending on those, different types of support may help offload the affected parts of the knee,” she says.

The takeaway

Investing in a pair of comfortable and practical shoes is important for everyone, but especially for those with knee problems. Still, as Tanaka points out, even the best pair of shoes won’t solve all your knee problems.

“Shoes should not be relied upon as the sole source of support for an arthritic knee,” she says. “Rehabilitation and anti-inflammatories often play the key role in symptomatic relief, but a well-fitting, supportive shoe may help reduce stress on the knees during activities.”

Last medically reviewed on January 25, 2021

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Medically reviewed by Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP — Written by Adrienne Santos-Longhurst — Updated on February 23, 2021

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What to Do When Your Shoes Are Too Tight

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There are millions of pairs of shoes out there. But you only have two feet, and they’re unique to you. Take the time to be sure the shoes you buy are right for your feet.

Here are ways to change the shoes you already have if they’re too tight, plus tips on how to avoid narrow shoes and the problems they can give your feet.

7 ways to stretch out your shoes

1. Wear them in the evening

If your shoes are just a little uncomfortable, try wearing them around the house. Sometimes, a few nights of doing this can soften them up to the point they feel good.

Let your feet rest before trying this method, especially if it’s hot outside or you’ve walked a lot that day.

New shoes? Try to walk only on rugs or carpeted surfaces, so you can still return the shoes looking new, if needed.

2. Thick socks and a blow dryer

If the first method doesn’t work, this one will add a little extra stretch and help the shoes conform to your feet.

  1. Put on a pair of thick socks and fasten the shoes comfortably.
  2. Now try applying a hair dryer for 20 to 30 seconds at a time to the tight areas.
  3. Use only medium heat, and keep the blow dryer in motion so you don’t excessively dry out or burn the leather.

It’s a good idea to apply a leather conditioner or moisturizer to the shoes after you’ve used this method.

3. Frozen zip-close bag

This method works best on nonleather shoes.

  1. Fill a zip-close bag part of the way with water.
  2. Place the partially filled bag inside your shoe. Try to arrange it so it’s near the tight spots.
  3. Now place the shoe and bag in the freezer overnight.

The water will turn into ice and expand, giving you a custom stretch for your shoes.

4. The peeled potato trick

Peel a potato and mold it into the shape of your shoe’s toe box (front of the shoe). Wipe the potato dry with a paper towel, and stuff it inside your shoe overnight. This method can provide a modest amount of stretch.

5. Adjustable shoe trees

Once a specialty item at shoe repair shops, four-way adjustable shoe trees are now available for home use for under $25. Versions are available for both men’s and women’s shoes.

For a little more money, deluxe versions in cedar or other types of wood and stainless steel can be found.

These devices can help you expand the length and width of a shoe. Specially designed plugs (bunion plugs) can also target problem areas in the top of the toe box.

Turn the adjustment handle of the shoe tree every 8 to 12 hours to keep stretching until you get the desired length and width.

This method can be combined with shoe stretching spray and liquids. It’s best for leather shoes and sneakers.

6. Shoe stretch sprays and liquids

A variety of liquids and sprays to stretch leather, fabric, and even vinyl are available. Spray them on the tight areas and then walk in your shoes.

These products also can be used together with adjustable shoe stretchers to help give your shoes a custom stretch.

7. Find a shoe repair professional

Most professional shoe repair shops or cobblers provide stretching services. They have machines and training to alter shoes. Not only can a cobbler stretch your shoes, they can repair and refresh the ones you have to make them last longer overall.

But these shops are becoming harder to find in most areas from lack of interest.

How to tell if shoes aren’t the right fit

Studies have shown that two-thirds of peopleTrusted Source wear shoes that are too narrow for their feet.

Tightness can come from a variety of fit problems, including:

  • toe box too narrow, not high enough, or both
  • overall length of the shoe is too short
  • shape of shoe doesn’t conform to your foot
  • height of heels puts stress on your toes or other parts of your foot

If you have any doubt about the comfort and fit of your shoes, it’s always best to pass on them. An ill-fitting pair of shoes can end up harming your feet and joints over time. You can always find a better-fitting pair somewhere else.

Signs your shoes don’t fit

If your toes don’t face straight ahead, seem crammed together, or are overlapping each other, it’s likely your shoes are too tight. When shoes fit properly, there’s space between each toe, and the toes face straight forward, not turned toward either side.

Your toes need stretching, too

If your toes are bunched together in your shoes, the shoes are too tight. In addition to stretching your footwear, you need to help your toes to get back to their natural state of separation. Here are some things you can do:

  • Take your toes in your hands and gently pull them apart.
  • Separate your toes and wiggle them.
  • Wiggle your toes a little every day
  • Take off your shoes and socks or stockings, and let your toes get sunlight and air.

Here are 19 stretches and moves to try to help your feet feel good.

Shoe shopping tips

  • Take your time. Never rush a shoe purchase. Try your best to see if the shoes fit while you’re in the store. Make sure you know the return policy before purchasing.
  • Find the return policy. If you buy online, check the return policy. Some sellers provide free return shipping on all their shoes.
  • Talk to someone with experience. Some shoe stores have salespeople who are experienced fitters. They will know about shoes in the store or on the market, can measure your feet, and suggest appropriate shoes to fit you.
  • Check out specialty stores. If you have foot problems, such as bunions, look for specialty shoe stores that carry orthopedic and special styles.
  • Look for toe boxes that are shaped like your foot. For the best fit, avoid pointy, curved, and irregularly shaped shoes. Look for a roomy toe box.
  • Identify the brands that work for you. Since different brands are known for the styles, width, and shapes of their shoes, you might be able to better rely on specific brands.
  • Buy men’s shoes. If you have wide feet, consider buying men’s athletic shoes. These are cut more widely and have a bigger toe box.
  • Shop for shoes later in the day. Your feet might swell and be slightly bigger in the afternoon and evening than at the start of the day.

Foot problems from tight shoes

Try to limit the time and distance you wear high heels. While you may think they look great on you, your feet will pay for it in the long term. So be kind to yourself and limit their use.

Your shoes can be too loose or too tight. If they’re too loose, you may get blisters where the shoes rub against your skin.

Tight shoes can cause even more problems. They can:

The takeaway

Properly fitting shoes are important for your health and well-being. Never rush a shoe purchase. Always take the time to make sure the shoes you buy are a good fit for you.

If you end up with shoes that are slightly too snug, there are things you can do at home or with the help of a shoemaker to adjust the shoes so they fit you well.

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