1. Wagner, Amy PT, DPT, GCS
  2. Luna, Sarah PT, DPT, GCS


Background and Purpose: Lower extremity osteoarthritis (OA) is a common condition among older adults; given the risks of surgical and pharmaceutical interventions, conservative, lower-cost management options such as footwear warrant further investigation. This systematic review investigated the effects of footwear, including shoe inserts, in reducing lower extremity joint pain and improving gait, mobility, and quality of life in older adults with OA.


Methods: The CINAHL, SPORTDiscus, PubMed, RECAL, and Web of Knowledge databases were searched for publications from January 1990 to September 2014, using the terms "footwear," "shoes," "gait," "pain," and "older adult." Participants who were 50 years or older and those who had OA in at least one lower extremity joint narrowed the results. Outcomes of interest included measures of pain, comfort, function, gait, or quality of life. Exclusion criteria applied to participants with rheumatoid arthritis, amputation, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, use of modified footwear or custom orthotics, purely biomechanical studies, and outcomes of balance or falls only. Single-case studies, qualitative narrative descriptions, and expert opinions were also excluded.


Results: The initial search resulted in a total of 417 citations. Eleven articles met inclusion criteria. Two randomized controlled trials and 3 quasiexperimental studies reported lateral wedge insoles may have at least some pain-relieving effects and improved functional mobility in older adults at 4 weeks to 2 years' follow-up, particularly when used with subtalar and ankle strapping. Three randomized controlled trials with large sample sizes reported that lateral wedges provided no knee pain relief compared with flat insoles. Hardness of shoe soles did not significantly affect joint comfort in the foot in a quasiexperimental study. A quasiexperimental designed study investigating shock-absorbing insoles showed reduction in knee joint pain with 1 month of wear. Finally, a cross-sectional prognostic study indicated poor footwear at early ages exhibits an association with hindfoot pain later in life.


Discussion and Conclusion: Because of the limited number of randomized control trials, it is not possible to make a definitive conclusion about the long-term effects of footwear on lower extremity joint pain caused by OA. There is mounting evidence that shock-absorbing insoles, subtalar strapping, and avoidance of high heels and sandals early in life may prevent lower extremity joint pain in older adults, but no conclusive evidence exists to show that lateral wedge insoles will provide long-term relief from knee joint pain and improved mobility in older adults with OA. More high-quality randomized control trials are needed to study the effectiveness of footwear and shoe inserts on joint pain and function in older adults with OA.