Choosing the Right Footwear for Rheumatoid Arthritis


As someone with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you frequently deal with pain, stiffness and swelling. Did you know your choice of footwear could be making your symptoms worse?

More than 90 percent of people with (RA) develop symptoms of the disease in the feet and ankles, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. People with RA may experience foot deformities (such as bunions and hammertoe), painful flat feet and metatarsalgia (ball of foot pain).

In addition, certain footwear can worsen hip and knee discomfort and may even help cause damage and complications to joints in other areas of the body.

Choosing the right footwear can play an important role in your ongoing comfort. Here are seven tips for choosing the best shoes for RA.

Support. People with RA need supportive shoes that will protect their joints and take pressure off bones in the foot and ankle. The cushioning of a supportive shoe also works to absorb the shock to those bones as you walk.

Shoes with good arch support help to decrease foot joint strain and help prevent new damage and new inflammation. Look for styles that have removable insoles that you can replace with orthotics or over-the-counter insoles. Insoles provide additional arch support and help the midtarsal joint across the middle of your foot.

Roominess. Tight shoes are not good for anyone’s feet, but they are especially bad for people with RA. If your toes are cramped, you will experience additional pain, and you may develop bunions or further bone damage. Select shoe styles that have wide toe boxes and about a finger-width of room at the heel. Going up a size from what you normally wear may be a good option. Be sure to pay attention to the width of your shoes as well. You may need to wear a wide or extra wide size.

Low heels. A study by the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society showed that seven out of 10 women have developed a bunion or other painful foot deformity, and that nine of those 10 women routinely wear high heels.

Another study found that women who frequently wore high heels had stiffer Achilles tendons and shorter calf muscles. High heels also can contribute to joint degeneration and knee osteoarthritis.

Clearly, flat shoes are the best choice for people with RA. If you must wear a heel, keep it as low as possible – no more than an inch and a half – and wear heels for only short periods of time.

Closures. Many people with RA turn to slip-ons to avoid the difficulty of tying laces or buckling straps. Slip-ons, such as mules, loafers and slippers, however, do not supply adequate support. A solution to this dilemma is to wear shoes with Velcro fasteners or elastic ties. Zippers are also an option with a small ring added to help you pull the zipper. A long-handled shoehorn can help you step into your shoes.

Choose sandals that have a back strap. Without an adjustable strap across the back of your ankle, your toes tend to over grip the edge of the shoe, causing foot strain. Avoid sandals that have straps across the sensitive parts of your foot, however.

Flexible soles. Rubber soles are best for flexibility and cushioning. When you shop for shoes, try to bend the shoe in half, pushing the heel towards the toe. If the shoe bends at the ball of the foot, it offers the flexibility you need.

Quality. When you have RA, you may need to pay up for well-made footwear. This fact is especially true for athletic shoes. Shoes with thick treads may become a tripping hazard. Avoid “shaping” or “toning” as they may put pressure on your knees.

Warmth. Many people with RA experience cold hands and feet. Shoes and boots with sheepskin or synthetic fur linings are one option. Another one is to wear thicker socks, but be careful the socks do not make your shoes too tight. You can also help keep your feet warm when you keep the rest of your body warm.

Just as you are making healthier decisions for diet and exercise, making the right choices for your footwear should be an important part of living with RA.

You need not feel you have to sacrifice all your style for comfort. Many shoe manufacturers offer attractive styles that offer support and comfort. Barking Dog Shoes, a website of stylish, comfortable shoes started in 2007 by Kirsten Borrink, who was diagnosed with RA when she was in her 20’s. “While it (RA) has done a number on my feet, I still want to wear cute shoes!” Borrink writes on her website.

If you have further questions about footwear choices for your specific needs, talk with your doctor.

About The Author

Derek Roach is a copywriter for who writes on foot health and orthopedic shoes. For more articles from Derek, please visit the blog on the Flow Feet website.

Derek Roach