What are the best shoes for rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory form of arthritis. RA can cause a person’s joints to become swollen, leading to pain, unsteadiness, or misshapenness. If the symptoms affect the feet, a person may experience pain while walking. Wearing appropriate footwear may provide relief in such cases.

There are many forms of arthritis, including RA. This type of arthritis occurs when a person’s immune system does not work correctly and attacks the synovium, the lining of the joints.

The synovium becomes inflamed and thickened as a result, causing the affected joint to become tender and painful. A person with RA may notice that their joint has become red and swollen and is stiff to move.

Having RA can lead to pain while walking, particularly if a person is wearing inappropriate footwear. Wearing certain shoes, insoles, or orthopedic footwear can help relieve the pain of RA in the feet.

This article explains how RA affects a person’s feet. It also discusses features to look for in a shoe for RA and what shoes to choose and avoid.

According to the American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS), about 90% of people with RA develop foot or ankle symptoms.

When RA affects the feet, a person may notice symptoms first appearing in their toes and around the balls of their feet. These RA symptoms may then develop in the middle and back of the foot and, eventually, the ankles.

RA in a person’s feet can cause symptoms such as:

RA typically affects joints symmetrically, so if symptoms appear in one foot, they will likely also develop in the other foot. Having RA in both feet may make walking difficult and painful.

Having RA can also cause further issues with the feet, such as:

Developing additional foot conditions can cause a person with RA further pain or discomfort while walking.

Footwear can be important when a person has RA. If a person is unable to walk without pain, it can lead to a reduced quality of life.

If a person with RA wears inappropriate shoes, this may lead to their condition worsening. Inappropriate shoes may also cause bunions or corns to become more pronounced or painful.

The American College of Rheumatology states that frequent low intensity exercise, such as walking, can help build muscle strength. Increases in muscle strength can improve a person’s health and reduce pressure on their joints. If a person is unable to walk regularly due to foot pain, they may lose out on these health benefits.

When choosing shoes to help relieve RA symptoms, there are a few things a person should consider.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that shoes with stiff soles and rocker bottoms can reduce pressure on the foot, as well as pain. A rocker bottom shoe is a shoe with a thick, rounded sole that helps redistribute pressure in the foot.

A study from 2014 found that among a sample of 166 people with RA, nearly 60% wore shoes that were the wrong size. The researchers noted that many people with RA wear shoes that are too narrow. It is important that a person with RA has adequate room inside their shoes to prevent painful rubbing.

The AOFAS suggests that a person with RA may benefit from shoes with deep toe boxes. The toe box is the front part of the shoe where a person’s toes sit. Having a larger toe box helps prevent the shoe from rubbing against hammer toes, bunions, or corns. The AOFAS also mentions that soft arch support and firm heels can help with RA symptoms.

Research from 2019 asked healthcare professionals to comment on what females with RA found important in their shoes. These characteristics included:

  • wide, deep toe box
  • adjustable fastenings
  • ease of putting on and taking off
  • breathable material
  • comfortable upper material
  • removable insole
  • no seams over pressure areas to avoid rubbing

A healthcare professional may be able to recommend certain shoes to help a person with RA. A person may also wish to speak with a healthcare professional about what type of shoe would be best for them.

People living with RA should avoid wearing certain types of shoes. Shoes that are too tight may cause bunions and corns to form, leading to additional pain. They may also be painful for people with a hammer toe.

High heels are not advisable for people with RA. High heels put pressure on the ball of the foot, which may aggravate RA symptoms. Additionally, closed-toe high heels force a person’s toes into the tip of the shoe, which can cause pain, corns, or bunions.

Wearing high heels can also make balancing more difficult. As RA can cause unsteadiness, a person with this condition who wears high heels may have an increased risk of falling.

Information from the Arthritis Foundation notes that pain from RA in the feet can spread to areas such as the shin, knee, and lower back. Wearing shoe inserts, also known as orthotics, can help redistribute body weight and reduce stress on the lower body.

Insoles can help by:

  • decreasing pain
  • improving function
  • improving a person’s gait
  • providing support
  • correcting or preventing foot abnormalities

Insoles are available to buy over the counter in certain shops and pharmacies. A person can also get a custom-made insole from a specialized professional, such as a podiatrist, to meet their specific requirements. The podiatrist can also fit the insole into a person’s shoes and make sure that it is comfortable.

Custom-made insoles can be expensive, and a person’s health insurance plan may not cover them. A person should speak with a healthcare professional about what insole options are most suitable for them.

RA is a type of inflammatory, autoimmune arthritis. RA can cause a person to have swollen, painful joints on their feet, which can lead to the development of bunions, corns, or hammer toes.

Wearing suitable footwear can be particularly important for a person with RA. Shoes that are too tight or too high can lead to further problems developing.

A person with RA should look for shoes that have wide toe boxes, rocker bottoms, and soft arch support. Shoes with adjustable straps and comfortable, breathable material may also be beneficial for a person with RA.

Some people with RA may also benefit from insoles. A person should speak with a healthcare professional such as a podiatrist about what type of insole would suit them best.


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