Best Shoes for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on September 18, 2022
3 min read

The shoes you wear can make a difference in your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

In early stages of the condition, the right shoes may  help preventchanges to your feet before they become permanent. If you already have foot pain or other problems due to RA, good footwear can support your feet and lessen discomfort.

The reasons go beyond the health and comfort of your feet. Shoes can affect the alignment of your entire body, including the way you move your ankles, knees, hips, and back.

So what shoes should you wear? There's no single "best" style or brand that works for all people and activities. But there are some things to keep in mind.

Maybe you have a "go-to" pair of shoes that you wear most every day. Even if it’s a shoe that’s healthy for your foot, it’s a good idea to switch it up a bit, especially if you already have foot problems related to RA.

Each shoe makes your foot hit the ground in a specific way. Repeating this same movement day after day can cause stress injuries in your joints, bones, and muscles.

To vary the motion of your foot and of your stride, alternate shoes at least every 4-5 days.

Most people wear shoes that are too small for their feet. So how do you get a good fit?

Look for a shoe that’s wide enough. That means your foot doesn’t fall off the side of the sole or push the material out of shape. Check the width of the heel as well. If it’s too wide, your heel might slip out when you walk.

The shoe shouldn't push on any of your toes, including those that are out of shape because of foot problems (claw toe, hammertoes, etc.). And there should be enough room over the top of your foot to make it easy to get in and out of the shoe. You can adjust this in many lace-up shoes, as long as they have three or more sets of holes for laces.

In general, there should be about a half-inch of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. If you have a bunion or claw toe, the shoe should be as long as you'd need if all your toes were straight. This helps ensure a correct fit for width and the flex of the foot in the shoe.

Finally, try on any pair of shoes before you buy it. Even if you know your correct size in one brand of shoe, it may not be the same in a different brand or even a different model of the same brand. Try on both shoes, since your feet may not be the same size or width.

If you’re still having trouble getting the right fit, a foot doctor called a podiatrist can help.

Some research shows that flexibility in shoes is important if you have foot or knee pain related to rheumatoid arthritis.

A flat, flexible walking shoe that feels almost like you're barefoot may be better for many RA symptoms than so-called stability shoes. Those shoes, like many athletic shoes, offer more cushioning and support.

You might need to experiment with different styles to see what's right for you. Or ask your doctor or podiatrist for a recommendation based on your own symptoms and health history.

One thing that doctors agree on is that high heels are hard on your feet, especially if you have arthritis.

A 3-inch heel puts seven times more stress on your foot than a 1-inch heel. And it’s not just your feet that suffer. High heels also put pressure on your knees, back, hips, and other areas commonly affected by arthritis.

If you must wear high heels, break them in first, and don't wear them when you'll be walking or standing for long periods. Platform soles are a better choice than stilettos. Avoid pointed toes, which could lead to foot deformities.

A good rule of thumb: If the shoes hurt, they're damaging your feet.