October 15, 2018
Senior couple running
Wellness Tip

Don't Count on Unloading Shoes

by Berkeley Wellness  

Special “unloading shoes” are marketed to people with osteoarthritis of the knees as a way to help reduce pain and improve function. Such athletic shoes have stiffer mid-soles that are supposed to reduce knee loads by altering foot and ankle biomechanics. But a recent Australian study in the Annals of Internal Medicine has called into question the purported benefits.

The study involved 160 people with knee osteoarthritis, half of whom were given a pair of unloading shoes, while another half were given conventional walking shoes by the same company. After six months of wearing the shoes, both groups experienced similar improvements in pain and function, suggesting that replacing old worn-out shoes with any kind of well-cushioned, supportive walking shoes may help.

As the researchers noted, “Symptomatic benefits of unloading and conventional shoes may be related to other characteristics common to both, such as forefoot and rear-foot gel cushioning or the soft and flexible leather uppers. ... Our findings may be explained by the fact that participants wore new shoes with soles that were not worn down or uppers that were not stretched. ... Thus, both types of shoes that we provided probably represented a considerable improvement over normal footwear for many participants.”

The study looked at only one model of unloading shoes, so the findings can’t necessarily be generalized to other models, the researchers added.

Also see Are 'Maximalist' Running Shoes Better?