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Knee Pain Slowing You Down? A Podiatrist’s Tips For How To Choose The Right Shoes

Author:

Jamey Powell

Medical reviewer:

Robert Kornfeld, DPM

January 21, 2023

Contributing writer

By Jamey Powell

Contributing writer

Jamey Powell is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn, NY. Previously the senior market editor at Healthline.com, she has years of experience scouring endless product reviews and testing out the latest and greatest products in the sleep, fitness, and nutrition markets.

Medical review by

Robert Kornfeld, DPM

Holistic Podiatrist

Robert Kornfeld, DPM is a holistic podiatrist, dedicated to treating chronic foot and ankle pain at its source.

Image by Birdies

January 21, 2023

Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

Whether you’re constantly on your feet or you’re a devotee of the hot girl walk, active people put a lot of pressure on their knees. There are a number of things you can do to try to alleviate pain and stiffness (think: yoga poses for knee pain, a better mattress, and just good old fashioned rest), But if your aches and pains are disrupting your daily activities, you might want to reconsider your footwear choices. The best shoes for knee pain can help set you up for a more comfortable walk, run, or day on your feet.

To understand what causes knee pain and whether the right shoes can help, we spoke with Austin-based podiatrist, Anne Sharkey, DPM. Read on to learn what qualities to look for in a shoe and to find our top picks for the best shoes for knee pain.

The best shoes for knee pain:

Best casual shoes

Cariuma OCA LowGo to review

Best for walking

Hoka Clifton 8Go to review

Best for flat feet and knee pain

Brooks Addiction WalkerGo to review

Best for high arches and knee pain

New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12Go to review

Best dress shoes for women

Birdies Starling LoaferGo to review

Best dress shoes for men

Amberjack The OriginalGo to review

What causes knee pain?

If you’re living with knee pain, you’re definitely not alone–approximately 25% of the U.S. adult population1 experiences knee pain at some point. It’s an ailment that is caused by a slew of different catalysts, especially as you get older and put more wear and tear on our knees.

“Knee pain is most often the result of aging, and can be triggered by arthritis, injury (such as muscle, ligament, cartilage, bone, or tendon injuries), or repetitive stress,” explains Sharkey.

Luckily, there are a handful of lifestyle additions and preventative measures you can take to keep your knees happy and healthy. One of the easiest? Take a peek at what you’re wearing on your feet.

Can the right shoes help alleviate knee pain?

“Absolutely!” Sharkey confirms. “With shoes that lack support, the shock and stress that the foot absorbs with activity is transmitted up the kinetic chain into the knee joint.”

Sharkey says wearing shoes with more support and cushioning can reduce the stress and shock absorbed by the feet, thereby reducing the stress and shock experienced by the knee. This chain reaction carries up to your knees and offers relief.

What to look for in shoes for knee pain:

When it comes to finding the right shoes to combat knee pain, Sharkey has a few suggestions:

Know your foot type. The key to a truly comfortable pair of shoes is knowing your unique needs. “Those with flatter feet should look for shoes with arch stability or motion control, while those with higher arches should look for more neutral shoes with cushioning,” Sharkey clarifies. If you’re uncomfortable in your shoes and aren’t sure what type you need, it’s worth seeing a podiatrist for an evaluation.

Good arch support. Even if you don’t have specific arch-related issues, support for the soft area between the heel and the ball (AKA the arch) of your foot is important for alignment and pressure relief. “A well-supported arch means the foot is functioning optimally, which will reduce stress and strain on the knee,” says Sharkey.

Durability. Quality kicks don’t always come cheap, so it’s important to pick shoes with good feedback for durability–and to replace them when needed. “Shoes break down over time and lose their support,” warns Sharkey. Make sure your shoes are replaced regularly for optimal support, especially pairs used for daily use and exercise. The general rule of thumb is that shoes should be replaced every 500 miles or every 6 to 8 months.”

Look for the proper fit (and easy returns). “Wearing shoes that are too narrow or too small will not provide adequate support,” Sharkey adds. That’s why it’s important to know the return policy for the brand you choose. Most of the picks on our list offer wide and narrow models, and are fair about offering free returns within a reasonable amount of time–just make sure you’re aware of the differences between the brand’s return policy and that of third-party vendors such Amazon or Zappos.

How we picked:

Expert recommendations

We took Sharkey’s recommendations for many brands on this list, making sure these shoes met her criteria for arch support, cushion, and stability.

Sustainability

We aimed to include brands that incorporate recycled materials into their designs and adhere to sustainable business practices. A few are Certified B Corporations, and most make efforts to consider the environment in some capacity (although some shine brighter than others).

Variety

We selected a variety of shoes for different uses, foot types, and budgets–so everyone can find a pain-free shoe that fits their lifestyle.

Ratings & reviews

Although many variables determine whether a shoe works out for someone or not, we paid close attention to customer feedback and used it to guide our selection process.

Our picks for the best shoes for knee pain of 2023:

Best casual shoes: Cariuma OCA Low

Pros:

Excellent arch supportMade from recycled & organic materialsCarbon neutral shipping

Cons:

Squeaky on some floorsNo wide sizes available

Sizes available: 5-13Half sizes available

Colorways: 16 options

Return policy: 60 days

Great for everyday wear, these sustainable, stylish kicks from Cariuma are made with recycled plastics, sustainably-sourced natural rubber, and GOTS-certified organic cotton canvas. Unlike most casual sneakers, their vegan insoles provide arch support and cushion, so your feet and your body will stay comfortable all day long. What’s more, Cariuma (a Certified B Corp) plants two trees in the Brazilian rainforest for every pair of sneakers purchased.

The OCA Lows have a 4.85 out of 5-star rating overall, with over 6,800 reviews on the brand’s website. A few people with knee problems praise these shoes, including one reviewer who writes, “I have bad knees, but since I started wearing these shoes I’ve had no trouble with pain or swelling. They are comfortable and offer great support.” On the con side, some people say the soles of these shoes are a little squeaky on hard floors. There also isn’t a wide option available.

Best sustainable: Allbirds Tree Runners

Pros:

Sustainably-sourced materialsMachine washable

Cons:

Whole sizes onlyMay be too flexible for some

Sizes available: 5-11

Colorways: 15 options

Allbirds Tree Runners are a lightweight sneaker made from responsibly-sourced eucalyptus fibers, recycled water bottles, and a Brazilian sugarcane midsole (the midsole is made with the world’s first carbon negative foam!). They’re breathable, thanks to the eucalyptus, and well-cushioned enough that you can cover some serious ground in them pain-free. Unfortunately, you won’t find these shoes in half sizes. If you’re between sizes, the brand recommends going up. These are also machine-washable, just be sure to follow the washing instructions carefully.

The Tree Runners have over 6,000 reviews on the brand’s website, and with an overall rating of 4.7 out of five. Many people with knee pain rave about these shoes, including one who writes, “I got my first pair of Allbirds recently, and shortly after a knee injury. The shoes have the right amount of cushion that I’ve needed to get walking again!” Just note that the Tree Runners are more flexible than they are sturdy, so if you’re someone with flat feet who needs a little more structure, they may not deliver. If they don’t work out, Allbirds has a no-questions-asked return policy where lightly worn shoes are donated to Soles4Souls, a non-profit that helps donate unwanted shoes and clothing to those who need it.

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Pros:

Highly rated for supportTons of color options

Cons:

Too narrow for someCan run a half-size small

Sizes available: 5-13Half sizes availableWide sizes available

Colorways: 19 options

Return policy: 90 daysVaries by retailer

Asics are one of Sharkey’s top-recommended brands for relief from knee pain. The brand’s most popular support shoe is the Gel Kayano, a true favorite among runners, walkers, and folks who wear them to work. This newest model has generous-yet-lightweight midsole support and maximum cushion to absorb shock.They’re available in a ton of color options and some colors come in wide sizing as well.

Because shoe models evolve over time, fans tend to come and go. The Gel Kayanos seem to be an exception to that rule, though, with plenty of reviewers saying the shoe only gets better with each iteration. One person writes, “I have been wearing Kayanos since model 18, I won’t be going to any other shoe of any brand unless they stop making these! When you find the perfect shoe (especially when you have knee pain), you stick with it.” Our commerce editor is an avid runner and used to wear these any time she’d feel knee pain creeping in.

On the other hand, some find the newer model too narrow. We recommend going up a half-size or considering the wide model, especially if you’re prone to toe pain or have bunions.

Best for running: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22

Pros:

Multiple width optionsUses recycled materials

Cons:

Laces are shortMixed reviews about durability

Sizes available: 5-13Half sizes available

Colorways: 23 options

Return policy: 90 days to 1 yearVaries by retailer

Another lightweight support shoe (and a pick from Sharkey), the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22 is super popular with runners of all levels. This shoe uses the brand’s GuideRails technology to keep your foot in alignment, offering a solid balance of support and cushion.

The brand also makes a strong effort toward sustainability, when compared with others in the space. This shoe specifically uses recycled materials, such as plastic water bottles, and the company has plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

With over 1,000 reviews on the brand’s website and nearly 7.000 on Amazon, you don’t have to look far to find a fan of these sneakers–myself (the writer) included! As a runner on city sidewalks, I’ve experienced knee pain when wearing other shoes, but never with the Adrenalines.

On a negative note, a ton of online reviewers complain that their Adrenalines have much shorter laces than other pairs they’ve tried. I haven’t experienced this personally, but I seem to be the minority. Additionally, there are mixed reviews about long-term durability. The silver lining: if you purchase your shoes through Brooks or a retail partner, the Run Happy promise lets you return or exchange your shoes, even after 90 days of wearing them. And if you haven’t worn them, you have a full year to return them.

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Pros:

Great balance of cushion and supportUses recycled materials

Cons:

Runs largeChunky sole isn’t for everyone

Sizes available: 5-12Half sizes availableWide sizes available

Colorways: 15 options

Return policy: 30 days (worn or unworn)Varies by retailer

This highly-recommended shoe from Sharkey is one of the brand’s most popular shoes. Cloud-like comfort and a breathable mesh upper makes this a top pick for a multitude of people, including those with knee pain. Like most of the brand’s shoes, the Cliftons have an extended heel and a shock-reducing design that keeps your stride smooth and reduces pressure on the knees. There’s also generous toe room for people with metatarsal pain or bunions, and the shoe is available in wide sizes as well. Just note, most Hokas run large. If you’re not sure about your size, it’s a safe bet to try a half-size down.

There’s no denying that this is a chunkier shoe. Still, most people find it surprisingly lightweight and plenty cushy–and there is a lot of great feedback from folks with knee pain. One reviewer writes, “I have consistently used them for every workout, not just running, and I have seen a significant reduction in pain in my back and knees. I would recommend these shoes to anyone and everyone!” However, some folks find the arch support to be too rigid on these shoes. If cushion is your main goal (over support), another Hoka pick to check out is their Bondi 8 shoe.

Best for flat feet and knee pain: Brooks Addiction Walker

Pros:

Offers great stabilityHighly recommended by long-distance walkers

Cons:

Only 2 color optionsCan be squeaky

Sizes available: 5-12Half sizes availableWide sizes availableNarrow sizes availableExtra-wide sizes available

Colorways: 2 options

Return policy: 90 days to 1 yearVaries by retailer

“Using a motion control shoe or a shoe with arch support will help to reduce knee discomfort for those with knee pain,” explains Sharkey–which leads us to another Brooks’ pick: the Addiction Walker. What these shoes may lack in the style department, they make up for in support and comfort. They’re a neutral, slip-resistant pick with extra cushioning for shock absorption and a structured design that’s great for flat-footed folks. With medium, narrow, wide, and extra wide sizing, you’re sure to find a model that works best for your feet.

The Addiction Walkers get solid reviews, mostly from walkers and people who wear these shoes to work. One writes, “These shoes have excellent medial support and, with the orthotics, help my feet stay better aligned, thus preventing some hip and knee pain.” On the con side, some folks mention that they’re a heavier shoe (probably due to the leather material) and a handful of people say they can be rather squeaky.

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Best for high arches and knee pain: New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12

Pros:

Great cushioningWide sizes available

Cons:

Run slightly large

Sizes available: 5-13Half sizes availableWide sizes available

Colorways: 16 options

Return policy: 45 days

“Those with high arches struggle with shock absorption from initial contact between the foot and the ground. Cushioned shoes are best for helping with this,” Sharkey explains. A truly cushioned shoe, this design is super versatile and great for all types of feet–but especially for people with high arches who need that extra shock absorption.

An added sustainability perk: the breathable mesh upper is made from at least 50% recycled content and the midsole incorporates bio-based materials.

A lot of people love these shoes for their cloud-like comfort and breathability. One superfan writes, They are so cushiony and help my knees a lot, plus they fit super well. Very true to size. I’m going to probably buy a few more pairs in multiple colors, that’s how much I love them.” Some reviews warn that these run a little large, so if you’re in between sizes you may consider going down a half size.

Best budget: Skechers GOwalk Joy

Pros:

Several color and width optionsBreathableWide toe box

Cons:

Runs largeSoles could use more traction

Sizes available: 5-13Half sizes available

Colorways: 26 options

Return policy: 30 daysVaries by retailer

These budget-friendly sneakers are comfortable and supportive, with an Ortholite sole made from PU foam and aerogel to help take the pressure off your knees. The toe box is quite roomy, and the materials are breathable and lightweight. What’s more, you’ll almost always find these shoes for under $70 (and sometimes under $50) on most sites.

Dare we say that these kicks have a cult following!? They’re especially popular on Amazon where they have 4.5 stars from over 70,000 ratings. A lot of people with knee problems love these shoes. One reviewer writes, “I love to walk, but knee pain was stopping me from doing it as much as I like. The support and cushioning in these shoes seems to have solved that problem for me.” Some considerations: several people also mention that they run large, and a couple reviews we read suggest they could use more traction on the bottom.

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Best dress shoes for women: Birdies Starling Loafer

Pros:

Great cushioningMany color and fabric options

Cons:

Price varies by designNot for people very high arches

Sizes available: 5-13Half sizes available

Colorways: 16 options

Return policy: 30 days

If you have achy knees, your options for dress shoes can feel quite slim. These loafers are a classy, pain-free way to elevate your outfit. They have quilted insoles with seven layers of comfort material, including memory foam for added arch support. Plus, the no-slip rubber sole offers exceptional traction. The Starlings come in a wide variety of colors and styles, including calf hair, velvet, and suede–just note, the price varies by material.

These loafers have over 20,000 reviews on the Birdies website and 4.7 out of five stars overall. Most reviewers can’t say enough about the quality and comfort of these shoes, and there’s a lot of feedback from people with knee pain. One person writes, “I have had my Birdies for almost a month and I wear them almost everyday to the office. They are extremely comfortable, trendy and don’t leave my ankles, knees or feet hurting after a long day.” Most wearers will probably find these shoes more comfortable than the average flat, but some reviews suggest that people with super high arches might need more support.

Best dress shoes for men: Amberjack The Original

Pros:

Variety of colors and materialsHeat-activated insole foam molds to your foot

Cons:

No vegan optionReviews are mixed about sizing

Sizes available: 7-13Half sizes available

Colorways: 11 options

Return policy: 30 days

For a quality leather shoe that alsoprioritizes your foot and knee health, look no further than Amberjack. Think: business on the outside, comfort on the inside. The brand partners with a reputable tannery in Portugal to combine quality leather shoes with techy foam insoles that use heat to mold to your feet. You can choose from full-grain leather or suede, and select from a handful of different colors. Unfortunately, there are no vegan leather options at this time.

With 4.8 out of 5 stars and over 1,000 reviews, people really love Amberjacks’ Originals. One person writes, “I teach, so I stand all day and I have to have professional looking shoes. This is the first pair I have found that look nice but don’t make my feet and knees sore at the end of a long day.” Some negative reviews say the shoe colors are inconsistent with what’s on the website, and some reviews are mixed about sizing. But most people who had issues with their order say customer service went above and beyond to make things right.

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FAQ:

What shoes do doctors recommend for knee pain?

Doctors’ preferences vary when it comes to shoes for knee pain. However, the shoes our podiatrist recommended for this article are loved by many. “My favorite brands that offer a spectrum of shoes ranging from stability to cushion (with options for all foot types) are Asics, New Balance, Hoka, and Brooks,” Sharkey confirms.

Do cushioned running shoes help with knee pain?

Cushioned running shoes can help relieve knee pain by absorbing shock that would otherwise travel up your legs and to your knees. There are a wide range of cushioned running shoes out there, so be sure to do your research to find the right pair for your unique needs.

Are my shoes causing my knee pain?

Just as a cushioned, supportive pair of shoes can help relieve knee pain, a stiff, unbalanced pair can add stress to your knee joints. If you’re experiencing knee pain, it’s best to avoid high heels or shoes without structured soles. If the pain persists, consider visiting a podiatrist or physical therapist to get to the root of the problem.

The takeaway.

“What we’re wearing on our feet is so important when working to relieve and prevent knee pain,” Sharkey says. That’s why–whether you’re a walker, a runner, or just someone trying to live life pain free–prioritizing shoes that keep your body in alignment is key. If knee pain is getting you down, some gentle movement may also help. And if you’re continuously experiencing pain, consult a healthcare professional.

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