Bring Out the Flip-Flops and Sneakers, Better for Osteoarthritis

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2010-03-25 08:43

Just in time for summer, you can bring out your flip-flops and sneakers and feel confident that they are better for your knees and may help prevent osteoarthritis. That’s the word from researchers at Rush University Medical Center.

Some people worry about the lack of arch support characteristic of flip-flops and sneakers with flexible soles. However, it turns out that footwear designed to provide the feet with lots of support have largely neglected the biomechanical impact on the legs, according to rheumatologist Najia Shakoor, MD, the main author of the new study.

A key risk factor for development of osteoarthritis, which affects approximately 27 million people in the United States alone, is loading on the knee joints. People’s choice of footwear has a significant impact on that load, especially when they walk. The new Rush University study found that “flat, flexible footwear significantly reduces the load on the knee joints compared with supportive, stable shoes with less flexible soles.”

Osteoarthritis most often affects the weight-bearing joints of the knees, hips, and lower back, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Osteoarthritis of the knees is associated with pain when walking, climbing stairs, and rising from a chair. The pain can prevent patients from exercising the legs and can result in weakened thigh muscles, which further debilitates the patient.

Osteoarthritis of the hips is associated with pain in the buttock, inner thigh, and groin, referred pain in the knee and side of the thigh, and limping when walking. Spinal osteoarthritis is characterized by a breakdown of the spinal discs, stiffness and pain in the neck and lower back, pinched nerves in the back, and weakness or numbness in arms and legs due to pinched nerves.

In the new study, the researchers evaluated the gait of 31 patients who had symptoms of osteoarthritis. The patients’ gait was analyzed while they walked barefoot and while wearing four different types of shoes: clogs, stability shoes (prescribed for comfort and stability), a flat athletic shoe with flexible soles, and flip-flops.

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