A Guide to the Best Shoes for Arthritis 

Trends in arthritis-friendly footwear can keep you in step with the latest styles — comfortably. 

By Emily Delzell and Mary Anne Dunkin | Updated December 18, 2023 

Research shows the adage “move it or lose it” holds true when it comes to mobility. To keep moving with as much ease as possible, support your base with the best shoes for arthritis that work with — not against — your feet and joints

“Your body needs a well-built, stable foundation,” says Gary W. Stewart, MD, a board-certified orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon in Atlanta and spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “That means choosing and then actually wearing footwear that’s right for your particular foot type and joint issues.” 

Wearing the wrong shoe, often one that’s sturdy enough to stabilize and support affected joints, not only can create foot pain, but it can also interfere with mobility — from the ground up. 

“Your feet determine how the mechanical forces of standing, walking and running get distributed to the knees, hips, back and spine,” explains podiatrist Robert M. Joseph, DPM, PhD, a podiatrist at Scholl Foot and Ankle Center in North Chicago and a spokesperson for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. “Shoe gear plays a critical role because it can change, for better or worse, how those forces are distributed.”  

In this shoe guide, experts provide insights and tips on features for choosing casual shoes, athletic shoes, dress shoes, sandals, flip-flops and boots for women and men with arthritis. And hundreds of people with arthritis weigh in with their top shoe brands for arthritis. Whether you have osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or one of the many other types of arthritis, there are shoes out there that can provide support and comfort for you. 

Casual Shoes 

For both women’s and men’s casual shoes, focus on function and pick footwear that’s appropriate for the activity, says Ami Sheth, DPM, a podiatric surgeon at Foot and Ankle Associates in Los Gatos, California. “If you’re walking, you need stabilizing, cushioning features,” she says. “If you’re standing a lot, look for supportive cushioning, a roomy toe box and a rocker bottom to take pressure off the forefoot.” 

Athletic Shoes 

Most athletic shoes fall into two categories: stability sneakers and neutral sneakers. Stability sneakers have a dense, cushioned midsole and heel that help control motion and overpronation, a tendency for the foot to roll inward more than it needs to for optimal weight distribution and shock absorption. 

Although stability shoes have been shown to increase knee stress more than flatter shoes do, they can still be a good choice for some, says Carol Frey, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the West Coast Center for Orthopedic Surgery And Sports Medicine in Manhattan Beach, California “Stability shoes take weight off the ball of the foot, which is important for people with hip, knee, foot or ankle OA, RA, toe arthritis, or pain in the footpad,” says Dr. Frey. 

Foot structure matters, too. “Stability shoes provide good cushioning and motion control for people who overpronate,” says Bryan West, DPM, a podiatrist with Shores Podiatry Associates in Rosville, Macomb and Lenox, Michigan. “Likewise, wearing a motion control shoe if you do not overpronate can cause lateral foot pain,” says Jonathon Backus, MD, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in foot and ankle surgery at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado.  

If you’re not sure whether you have normal pronation, Dr. West advises checking with staff at a store specializing in athletic shoes. “Bring in an old pair of running shoes. They can determine your pronation by looking for the distinctive wear patterns caused by abnormal pronation,” he says. He notes that some stores offer high-tech digital foot scans that can pinpoint biomechanical issues. 

A neutral shoe is one that doesn’t correct for over or underpronation. “They offer good shock absorption and cushioning that people with arthritis can benefit from,” says Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, a podiatrist at Hackensack University Medical Center and owner of City Podiatry in New York City. “Their neutral design typically allows them to easily accommodate an insert or custom-molded orthotic, often prescribed for patients with arthritis.”  

Dr. Frey says neutral sneakers are best “for walkers and runners with normal pronation and no biomechanical problems. If you over or underpronate or have issues caused by injury or age, you’re better off with a shoe with attributes that address your problems.” 

Dress Shoes 

When looking for the perfect pair of shoes to complete a dressy outfit, it’s important not to forgo function and comfort for style.   

For women, high heels are a poor choice for feet and biomechanics. “The higher and narrower the heel, the more pressure you put on the forefoot and toes, and the more pain you will have,” says Dr. Sheth. Look for ample toe boxes and broad heels instead of stilettos or kitten heels. Wide, rubber-soled wedges with thick forefoot platforms help stiffen shoes to prevent painful joint movement, absorb joint-rattling ground contacts and decrease the heel-to-toe drop so you can raise your style without exceeding the 1.5- to 2-inch heel height maximum that experts recommend. “High heels, over time, can also result in Achilles tightness that may require future, even surgical, interventions,” says Dr. Backus. 

Men should look for stiffer models that bend only in the forefoot and avoid pointy toe boxes. Dr. Joseph says it may be hard to find dressy options with rocker bottoms (which help relieve pressure on the foot and knees), but some brands offer fashionable footwear with a steel or composite shank — an inner bar that runs the length of the footbed and stabilizes the foot. 

"If you wear the wrong shoe for your foot or for your biomechanics and you already have inflamed joints, it's like poking an angry bear."

—Ami Sheth, podiatric surgeon

Many sandals offer little more than a sole and a few thin pieces of leather to keep your foot in place. If you have arthritis in your lower extremities, look for sandals with more support. 

“The strappier the better,” says Dr. Sutera. “Straps let you adjust the shoe for a secure, custom fit. One of those straps must go across the back of your ankle. Without a back strap, toes over grip the edge of the shoe, and this encourages foot strain and hammertoes.” Avoid sandals with straps that cut across sensitive areas of your foot, she adds. “The top of the midfoot can be a particularly tender area and result in superficial nerve irritation,” says Dr. Backus.

Experts say these shoes, which are not particularly stable and can increase falling risk, are best for people who do not have problems with their feet or with balance. But one small study showed flip-flops may offer some benefit to people with knee OA.  

Researchers at Chicago’s Rush University exploring the joint load, or stress, caused by different shoes worn by people with knee OA found that wearing flip-flops (as well as going barefoot and wearing flat, flexible walking shoes) creates significantly less knee stress than clogs and sneakers known as stability shoes, which have cushioning in the heel and forefoot and a firm, dense midsole that supports the middle area of the foot. 

“In OA, higher joint loads are linked to more pain and arthritic damage and progression,” says lead study author Najia Shakoor, MD, a rheumatologist and associate professor of medicine at Rush University. “Other studies have shown being barefoot is good for knee load, and we found flip-flops reduce knee load by about the same percentage.” 

“Nevertheless, flip-flop wear can alter foot biomechanics and could potentially increase risks of tendonitis, metatarsalgia [inflammation of the ball of the foot] and toe deformity,” says Dr. Backus. “Therefore, these risks should be weighed when considering slipping on these convenient shoe wear options.” 


For both women and men, experts like the fitted ankles of boots, which stay on without any help from toes. Look for chunky or wedged heels, soft uppers and adjustable laces and buckles for a customized fit. Just make sure straps don’t compress painful areas. Avoid flat-soled boots without support or cushioning. A steel or composite shank can relieve midfoot pressure and pain, says Dr. Joseph.  

If arthritis also affects your hands, Steinbarger recommends looking for boots that pull on or close with zippers and adding zipper pulls A long-handled shoehorn can also help ease putting on boots and other types of shoes. 

Patients’ Picks: Top Shoe Brands for Arthritis 

When asked about their go-to brand for comfy shoes, 329 survey responders with arthritis mentioned 80 different brands. Here are the top-five vote-getters. 

  1. Sketchers 

  2. Clarks 

  3. SAS 

  4. Easy Spirit 

  5. Vionic 

—Source: Arthritis Today readers’ survey 

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