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Best Shoes for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Posted on March 04, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D.
Article written by
Victoria Menard

Your shoes can have a huge impact on your overall comfort and quality of life, especially when living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). If you have RA in your feet, ankles, hips, or knees, wearing the right shoes can do more than just prevent foot discomfort. Wearing shoes that reduce or eliminate foot pain can have a big effect on your mobility. Providing your feet with proper support can also align your skeleton correctly and help ease arthritis symptoms.

What To Look for in Shoes for RA

Some footwear brands offer styles specifically designed for people with arthritis. But there are a few features you can look for when buying a new pair, no matter where you shop. Generally speaking, the right shoe will provide support, cushioning, comfort, and proper fit.

Go for Support

The more support a shoe provides, the more it helps ease arthritis pain. Although thin, strappy sandals may be fashionable, they’re likely to worsen existing discomfort. Finding a shoe with as much support as possible is vital.

Look for a good sole when searching for supportive shoes. To get the most out of each step, look for a sole that is wide and rigid, only bending at the toes. One type of sole that may be particularly beneficial to people with RA is called a rocker sole. Shoes with rocker soles feature a thick sole that curves slightly upward at the heel and toe. This design helps distribute body weight more evenly during walking, reducing strain on the feet, ankles, and toes. Some small studies have found that rocker soles can help alleviate joint pain for people with arthritis. However, there is not yet sufficient evidence of their long-term benefits.

The shoe should also have a closed back to keep your foot in place and to avoid gripping with the toes.

Find the Right Shape and Width

Many people with arthritis develop foot problems, such as deformed joints, bunions (bony growths at the base of the big toe), and hammertoes (abnormal bends in the middle joints of the toes). Pointy-toed shoes can worsen or even cause these complications, causing discomfort on top of existing arthritis pain.

In addition to size, pay attention to your shoes’ width. Opt for wide or extra-wide fits if needed, to accommodate any existing foot problems comfortably. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t size up if a shoe feels too snug — shoes that are too long may fit or bend improperly in other areas.

Switch It Up

If you struggle to find comfortable, arthritis-friendly shoes, finding a pair that finally works can be a relief. It may be tempting to wear your favorite pair every day, but it’s not always a good idea.

Experts suggest that you should have at least three pairs of shoes to alternate between throughout the week because each pair affects how you walk in a certain way. Wearing the same pair all the time may strain certain muscles, bones, and joints, resulting in overuse syndrome. Without rest and proper treatment, more severe stress injuries can develop, as well as bursitis, Achilles tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis.

Material Matters

When it comes to a shoe’s material, it’s important to strike a balance between flexibility and firmness. Overly rigid materials can interfere with your normal gait (walking pattern) and cause pain, especially if you have problems like hammertoes or bunions. Materials that provide comfort and accommodation while keeping the foot in place include leather, mesh, and synthetic stretchy fabrics, such as neoprene.

Avoid Certain Styles

Anyone who has worn heels in the name of fashion can attest that they’re not the most comfortable option. High heels can cause or worsen many foot problems and put excess stress on the knees, hips, and back. If you need to wear heels on a special occasion, look for styles no higher than 1 inch to 1.5 inches.

Flat shoes may seem to be the better alternative — however, that’s not necessarily the case. Shoes like ballet flats often lack the supportive qualities that people with arthritis need in their footwear, including a solid sole. Flats that offer sufficient arch support and shock absorption are better choices than completely flat shoes.

Recommendations From myRAteam Members and Experts

Having rheumatoid arthritis may seem like a barrier to picking stylish footwear. However, you don’t need to sacrifice style for comfort. From slip-ons and sneakers to high heels and sandals, here are some pairs experts and myRAteam members have recommended for RA.

Sneakers

One myRAteam member asked the community for advice when looking for sneakers: “My pain tends to travel, but my feet and ankles are stiff and sore every day. I’ve thought of getting Clarks tennis shoes because my Clarks sandals are my most comfortable shoes. Thoughts?”

One member shared that they started with Clarks — which also offers a wide range of styles from slip-ons to heels — then moved to New Balance because of their “generous toe box.”

Along with New Balance, Asics and Avia have been recommended. These brands offer a variety of widths and styles, including stability shoes (which help control motion and foot positioning) and neutral shoes (which allow room for removable footbeds and orthotic inserts).

A member also shared that they wear Vionic’s Pace slip-on sneakers, which “have a Velcro elastic strap to adjust when [your] feet swell.”

Sandals

When looking for sandals, look for a supportive style — that means arch support, thick soles, and straps that allow custom adjustment and security.

One myRAteam member provided a review of their go-to sandals: “For summer, try Chaco sandals. I started wearing the men’s sandals because they’re wider — the open ones (Classic), not the ones that wrap around the big toe. They now make some of the women’s in a wide, which I just bought because they were dressier.”

Another member mentioned that in their journey of finding the right pair, they “ended up buying two pairs of Birkenstocks with the soft insole (not the hard cork).”

Heels

Keep heeled styles to no higher than 1 inch to 1.5 inches. Aravon is an option that may be recommended. Aravon offers low-heeled ankle boots, some of which have rocker soles. You can also find sneakers, slip-ons, and walking shoes with roomy toe boxes and wide styles from this collection.

One myRAteam member said that they have purchased heels from OrthoFeet. This brand’s BioHeels offer orthotic insoles and adjustable arch support, which they state improve alignment and reduce impact while walking.

Flats

The Naot’s Matai flat provides ample support and includes a removable anatomical footbed. Dansko and ABEO are also arthritis-friendly brands.

Find Your Community

Living with rheumatoid arthritis can affect all areas of life. It can make a world of difference to connect with others who understand.

On myRAteam, the social network for people with RA and their loved ones, more than 144,000 members from across the world come together to ask questions, offer support, and share advice with others who understand life with rheumatoid arthritis.

Do you have favorite shoes for RA? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by posting on myRAteam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D. is an internal medicine and rheumatology specialist. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Victoria Menard is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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