Finding the Best Shoes and Socks for Rheumatoid Arthritis Will Improve Your Life

Complete list of Recommended Shoes for Rheumatoid Arthritis is found below. 

More than two million Americans are affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and approximately 90% of these people may experience foot pain, ankle pain, and/or unstable ankles as a result. It is quite common for RA to first manifest in the toes, progressing through the forefoot, the back of the foot, and into the ankles.

Wearing the Correct Shoe Will Almost Always Reduce Pain and Make Your Life Better

We see rheumatoid arthritis patients every week who are living with foot pain simply because they are wearing the wrong shoes for their feet. I can’t emphasize this enough, but wearing the correct shoes, socks and orthotics will reduce or eliminate foot pain and simply make your life better.

What RA Related Foot Problems Can Shoes Help?

For those who suffer from RA of the feet, buying shoes can present a particularly thorny problem. The first thing to recognize is that not every person with rheumatoid arthritis has the same foot problems.

Common Foot Problems Seen in People with Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Pain under the ball of the foot: Many people with RA have thinner fat pads under the ball of the foot and thus have increased pain here. These people benefit from shoes with more cushion under the ball of the foot. They will also require more cushioning in their socks and orthotics and so will require a deeper shoe to accommodate this cushioning.
  • Painful curled toes: RA can lead to the formation of hammertoes and other toe deformites. This can cause pain on the tops or tips of the toes. These people benefit from shoes with extra room in the toebox.
  • Pain under the heel: Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to thinning of the fat pad under the heel and heel spur formation. These patients need a shoe with a stable heel, extra heel cushion and room in the shoe for an orthotic.
  • Painful bunions:  RA can lead to the formation of bunions over time. These RA patients require shoes with extra width and the ability to be stretched over the bunion.

Most Important Shoe Features if You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

As you can see, there is not going to be a single shoe that we can recommend for everyone with RA.  There are, however, some standard shoe features from which everyone with RA would benefit. These include:

  • Support – As with most foot conditions, buying shoes with proper support is critical to finding relief from pain and discomfort. The more support a shoe provides, the better it will protect the joints of your foot and the better it will absorb shock; features which are critical to those who are dealing with RA.
  • Removable insoles. There are good studies showing that the use of foot orthotics can significantly decrease foot pain in people with RA. To fit an orthotic the shoe must have a removable insole. This is true whether you will be using over-the-counter orthotics or custom orthotics.
  • Deeper Toe box – This one is really important. If you are suffering from RA you will need a deeper than average shoe for several reasons.
    • First is that you will require an orthotic or arch support and that orthotic should have extra cushioning to replace the thinner fat pad found at the heel and the ball of the foot in people with RA. The cushioning takes up room so a deeper shoe is required to accommodate this.
    • Second, many people with RA have curled toes and/or bunions and need extra room in the toe box of the shoe.  The recommended shoes listed below all are “extra depth” and have extra room in the toe box.
    • Third, wearing socks with extra cushioning will help tremendously at reducing pressure and pain at the ball of the foot and the heel, but these extra cushioned socks take up more room in the shoe.
  • Low heels – The most common foot problem in patients with RA is pain under the ball of the foot. Higher heels increase pressure on the ball of the foot. While stylish heels may be all the rage today, they are simply not worth the pain for women dealing with arthritis of the feet. Your heel should never exceed 1 – 1 ½”, and should include a back-strap for a more secure fit.
  • Cushioned Sole – A well cushioned sole will be an excellent shock absorber for your feet. Rubber soled shoes will provide this for you, if you are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Make sure the sole flexes at the ball of the foot, not in the middle, because the ball of the foot takes the most punishment when you walk.
  • Moderate sole thickness – Shoes should have moderate sole thickness for cushioning, but if the sole is too thick it may become a tripping hazard. Our recommended shoes offer good cushioning but are not excessively thick.
  • Rocker Sole (optional): A rigid rocker sole on the shoe can very effectively decrease pressure under the ball of the foot.
  • Velcro closures (optional) – For many with RA, their hands are as pain filled as their feet, making it difficult to tie their shoes. The simple solution is – Velcro closures – not slip-ons, as they will never provide adequate support. You may also want to invest in a long-handled shoe horn to help you get into your shoes more easily.

What are the Best Shoes for People with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The shoes below, in various categories, are those we recommend to our patients who have rheumatoid arthritis. You will find links to Amazon where you can see the shoes and purchase them if you wish. These are affiliate links and we will earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, should you purchase. We do recommend, however, that if you have any significant deformity it is best to be fitted for the shoes at a pedorthic specialty shoe store if you have a good one in your community. If you don’t have access to a good specialty pedorthic shoe store then get the shoes online but wear them in the house for a week before you wear them outside and return them if they are not comfortable.

We are updating our list of recommended RA shoes for 2017. Bookmark this page and check back in the week of March 16th for all of our recommendations in the following categories. In the meantime, the categories that are bold have complete recommendations:

  • Best walking shoes
  • Best work books 
  • Best running shoes
  • Best women’s dress shoes
  • Best women’s dress boots
  • Best men’s dress shoes
  • Best slippers 
  • Best sandals
  • Best shoes if you have poor finger dexterity
  • Best shoes if you have severe hammertoes and/or bunions
  • Best socks for people with rheumatoid arthritis

Best Walking Shoes for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Aetrex walker for men

Walker – Men

There really are a lot of choices here but here are some options I regularly recommend to my patients. If you have severe hammertoes or bunions, however, see my recommendations below for a better choice in walking shoes.

My favorite brand of walking shoes for those with RA (at least those who do not have severe hammertoes or bunions) is Aetrex.

Aetrex walker for women

Walker – Women

Aetrex walking shoes in general have extra depth so they can accept orthotics with extra cushion and extra cushioned socks. Aetrex have excellent cushioning at both the forefoot and the heel and although they are deeper than most shoes, they are attractive and don’t look like an orthopedic shoe.

You can see my recommended Aetrex Walker for women here and the Aetrex Walker for men here.

Best Running Shoes for Rheumatoid Arthritis

New balance 990 for men

New Balance 990 – Men

I have a number of patients with RA who are avid runners or joggers. Because people with RA have a greater tendency toward pain under the ball of the foot and the heel, and running increases forces on both of these areas, running shoes for those with RA should have superior support excellent cushioning and plenty of room for an orthotic. The New Balance 990 for men and the New Balance 990 for women are my go-to shoes for runners with rheumatoid arthritis. Features that make this a great shoe for runners with RA include:

  • 10mm thick Fat Pad Gel insert in the heel, which works with the heel-cradle design of the outsole to help reduce stress on the heel bone
    New balance 990 for women

    New Balance 990 – Women

  • Extra thick removable insole layer for added depth (to make it easy to use proper orthotics and extra cushioned socks)
  • Pressure relief insole to reduce force on the ball of the foot
  • Midsole stability for torsional rigidity & pressure dispersion
  • External heel counter for rearfoot stability & extra support

This is the running shoe I recommend to most of my patients with RA. You can see the New Balance 990 for men here and the New Balance 990 for women here.

Best Work Boots for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Finding comfortable work boots can be hard for people with foot deformities due to RA. Luckily there is a brand of work boot that seems almost specifically made for RA patients. PW Minor work boots have many features that make them the only work boot I recommend for patients with foot problems due to RA. These features include:

  • PW Minor work boots come in multiple widths (up to 10 widths per size!) to accommodate wide feet and RA related deformities such as bunions
  • Extra depth (most have two extra removable insoles) to allow extra-cushioned orthotics and extra cushioned socks.
  • Full grain leather which can be stretched and modified to fit various foot deformities.
  • Extra room in the toe box to accommodate curled toes.
  • Steel shanks for superior support and protection and welt construction for durability
  • Available with steel toes.  You can see some PW Minor steel toe work boots here.

Best Socks for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Look for socks that provide maximum cushioning under the forefoot. Cushion acts to slow the velocity of the foot as your foot hits the ground and by doing so decreases force under the ball of the foot. This cushioning helps to replace some of the cushion that is often lost in people with RA

Avoid cotton socks. Cotton compresses almost immediately when you start to wear them and provides essentially no cushion. Acrylic materials on the other hand will provide cushion throughout the day. 

The socks we recommend most often for those with RA are from Thorlo. Specifically you want to look for the Thorlo Thick Padded Socks. They are available in many styles – from running socks to dress socks to hiking socks.

When you’re looking for the best shoes for rheumatoid arthritis, advice from your podiatrist can be invaluable. The Foot & Ankle Center of Washington has also provided you with a Free Recommended Shoe List.

If you live in the Puget Sound area and are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis of the feet, make an appointment to see us in our Seattle office as soon as possible.

Dr. Larry Huppin
Follow me!

Dr. Larry Huppin

Podiatrist specializing in biomechanics at Foot & Ankle Center of Washington
Lawrence Z.Huppin, DPM is an internationally recognized lecturer and teacher on orthotic therapy and biomechanics.In his Seattle private practice his focus in on treatment of mechanical problems such as heel pain, bunions, ball of foot pain, athletic injuries and children’s foot conditions.In addition he specializes in toenail problems including ingrown and fungal toenail conditions. He is always focused on helping patients avoid surgery if at all possible and keeping your medical costs as low as possible.
Dr. Larry Huppin
Follow me!

Latest posts by Dr. Larry Huppin (see all)


9 thoughts on “Best Shoes for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  1. I HAVE PLANTAR FASCIITIS,PERONEAL TENDONITIS, CALCIFICATION (BEING TREATED BY A THERAPIST), ALSO SOME ARTHRITIS AND BURNING ON THE SOLES OF MY FEET (ALONG SMALL TOE SIDE) I WANT TO FIND A GOOD WALKING SHOE TO GIVE COMFORT TO MY FEET. WHAT CAN YOU RECOMMEND?

  2. Have you been able to make any progress on completing the other categories (I’ve checked back a number of times since Jan 16 to no avail). I am particularly interested in your recommendations for socks for RAers.

    1. Thanks for the reminder – I’ll try to work on that this weekend. Sometimes life just gets in the way. For socks for RA you will want to look for socks with maximum cushion under the forefoot. Avoid cotton as it will compress and not bounce back. Extra cushioning acts to slow velocity of the foot and thus decrease force. The brand I recommend more than any other is Thorlo and you can see the Thorlo socks with the best cushion here.

      Have a great weekend.

  3. Back again. Regarding your recommendation for socks, I have RA and find that a sock without any cotton causes my feet to become unbearably hot and painful. Do you have any recommendations for USA-made cotton blend socks?

    Also, your recommendation of New Balance for people with RA prompts memories of the multi-million dollar class-action lawsuit against NB for false advertising about their “toning” and “weight loss” shoes. I assume that you have tested the NB styles that you recommend and not taken NB’s word for it, but could you reassure me on this?

    Thank you!

  4. Dr. Huppin,

    I must wear socks that have some cotton because I have a mild-moderate condition of “burning feet,” and if my feet cannot breathe they become very uncomfortable. I also have RA. Is there a cotton-blend sock that you can recommend? If not, I will try the no-cotton socks that you have suggested.

Leave a Reply