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Knee pain? Try wearing flip-flops, study suggests

March 24, 2010 | 11:11 am

Flipflop Poor flip-flops. Popular though they are, they've been targets for criticisms of many types -- for their lack of arch support, for their potential tripping hazard, for their inability to protect foot skin from the sun and thus their theoretical elevation of foot-skin cancer risk (seriously). And who was to say the criticism was wrong? The shoes are cheap -- they have to be bad, right?

Not so.

Researchers at Rush University in Chicago analyzed the gaits of 31 people with osteoarthritis of the knee while the participants were walking barefoot and while they were wearing clogs, stability shoes, flat walking shoes and the much maligned (and generally inexpensive) flip-flops.

If the goal is to not increase pressure on the knee -- and people with knee osteoarthritis would wholeheartedly say that it is -- then walking barefoot, wearing flat walking shoes or simply slipping on thongs would appear to be the best choice. The same could not be said for clogs and stability shoes.

The researchers note that sole flexibility, like heel height, would seem to be important when choosing footwear.

Now if someone could only do something about that annoying flapping sound.

Here's the abstract as it appears in the journal Arthritis Care & Research and the release as it appears on ScienceBlog -- plus an earlier abstract from a similar study (also out of Rush). It found that a specialized shoe known as a mobility shoe tended to be kinder to the knees than a typical "walking" shoe.

And here's more about knee osteoarthritis from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

— Tami Dennis

Photo: Fun and not-so-bad for you. Credit: Goh Seng Chong / Bloomberg

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Comments (9)

You know what you can do about the flopping sound plus a lot of other things which annoy you?

Get over it.

I own at least 25 pairs of flip flops, most from Old Navy. Yes, aside from the annoying sound, they're very comfortable, especially after a hard day's work in "foot coffins". I have dress flip flops, ff's from Oakley that are odor and slip resistant, (which happen to be my favorites), and chunky ff's that make me look taller on occasion.
But I do have knee problems, stemming from athletics such as running, playing soccer, martial arts and weight gain over the years causing plantar faciitis.
Unfortunately due to my work environment, I can't wear then for safety reasons, but during the summer I find a way to keep a pair, (or two) at my desk.
Happy bare footing or flip flopping.

I am a 60 year old active woman who has had 3 athrospcopic procedures for miniscus tears etc., to both my knee joints.
I have been advised to have knee replacement surgery. In my case, flat shoes or flip-flops are the worst possible choice of footwear, causing incredible pain after only short term use. I have discovered that the kind of shoes that are comfortable depend entirely upon where your arthritis/cartilege loss/joint pain is located. If you have bone-on-bone loss on the inside part of the joint like mine, with a history of having worn high heels for many years, your joint will be deformed in such a manner as to make flats impossible to wear comfortably. I have spoken to many women in every conceivable shoe store, and to my orthopedic doctor who has told me that he sees women with my symptoms every day. In my case, a clog with a small platform works best!

Who cares what flip flops look like or sound like if they help peoples knees?!

joburgjen, get your knee or knees replaced. Studies have shown what you and I both know first-hand, that arthroscopic knee surgery does not work.

You are a relatively young woman, younger than I was when I had the procedure (I was 63), and since you describe yourself as "active," I assume that you are in reasonably good health. Those knees are not going to get better by themselves, they are going to get worse. So, if you were a surgeon, would you expect better results from surgery on a healthy 60 year old or on a 75 year old with health issues? You figure it out.

I will not lie to you. The surgery and rehab are a horrible ordeal, ranking right up there with childbirth. But you'll be able to play tennis, if you are so inclined, WITHOUT PAIN, after you heal, which takes about 3 months. This is an out-and-out cure. There will be NO PAIN AT ALL in your knees afterwards. You will wonder, as we all wondered, whyever you waited so long. They think the new implants will last 25 years. When mine are scheduled to wear out I'll be 88. If I'm still alive; most people aren't. Let that take care of itself.

Then you can wear flip-flops or spike heels or whatever you want afterwards, it won' t matter.

@ Susan, Great points, well taken, from someone who knows!
Much appreciated.

I have had knee problems since age 10. I have found flat walking shoes, "barefoot" shoes, bare feet and some flip flops very comfortable.
As far as when to have a knee replacement, I think it depends on the amount of pain and limitation of activity. I'm still in my 50s with minimal pain most of the time, still able to work out, so I'm waiting, though I know that it will come to pass. I think that's true of any surgery for a progressive disease such as arthritis. Don't do it too early or wait too long.

I don't see just any flip-flop helping knee pain. I would think that not having ankle support from wearing flip-flops would also have an impact on your knees.

I am 63 and the only one of my friends that wears Flip Flops as often as I can. I am the only one that doe NOT have knee problems. I love Flip Flops.


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