The use of special “mobility” shoes can help ease knee pain and slow disease progression in people with osteoarthritis, according to research conducted at Rush University Medical Center and presented this week at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in Atlanta.
“Forces on the knee joint during walking have been shown to be related to pain, severity and progression of knee osteoarthritis,” explained Dr. Najia Shakoor, rheumatologist and associate professor of medicine at Rush and lead investigator in the study. “Therefore, researchers currently investigate strategies to reduce these forces or loads on the knee joint in hopes of preventing progression of the disease.”
Shakoor studied how the use of mobility shoes—flat, flexible shoes, designed specifically for her research, that allow natural foot mobility and provide sufficient support for the foot—affected knee osteoarthritis.
In an initial evaluation, Shakoor and her colleagues used a special camera system and a force plate to determine gait (how a person walks) in 16 participants diagnosed with osteoarthritis while they walked in their own shoes, mobility shoes, and bare feet. Participants were then instructed to wear the mobility shoes a minimum of six hours per day, six days a week for six months. The same gait analysis that was performed at the beginning of the study was repeated at six, 12 and 24 weeks.
Overall, the researchers determined that mobility shoes, in comparison to conventional shoes, led to significantly decreased knee loads. Additionally, they found that longer-term use of the mobility shoes led to even better outcomes in participants – a reduction in knee load that increased from 3.7 percent at the beginning of the study to 9.4 percent after six weeks, and to 18 percent at six months.
Finally, the researchers found that after 24 weeks of wearing mobility shoes, participants adapted their gait (with a knee load reduction of 11 percent) even when wearing conventional shoes – leading researchers to believe that the use of mobility shoes could create beneficial neuromuscular and behavioral changes in how people with osteoarthritis walk.
“This study showed that specialized footwear was beneficial in reducing knee loads substantially over six months,” said Shakoor. “It is also the first study to show that chronic use of a mechanical, knee-load reducing intervention could lead to favorable alterations in the way participants walk – even once the intervention is removed.”