Footwear and osteoarthritis clinical trials

Researchers at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine at the Department of Physiotherapy have published further research about footwear options for the 1.9 million Australians affected by osteoarthritis.

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From left to right: Professors Kim Bennell and Rana Hinman.

Previous research published by Professors Kim Bennell and Rana Hinman in partnership with athletic footwear company ASICS, showed that their specially designed shoe, GEL-Melbourne OA, can reduce knee load during walking, compared to more traditionally designed athletic shoes for people with knee osteoarthritis.

Their research in the Annals of Internal Medicine focused on the patient’s experience - their pain and physical function, or otherwise - wearing different footwear. This study, which was funded by the NHMRC, was the biggest clinical trial of footwear conducted on knee osteoarthritis.

“Our early research evaluated the biomechanical effects of the GEL-Melbourne OA shoe on knee forces during walking in a laboratory environment. This time we were measuring clinical symptoms as reported by the patients,” Professor Hinman said.

“This trial was designed to assess how changing the knee load via specially-designed footwear ultimately affects what the patient feels. The two primary measures we were interested in were knee pain and physical function of the patient.”

During the six-month trial, patients recorded their levels of pain and physical function. The researchers found that both the specially designed unloading shoes and conventional recreational footwear improved pain and function in knee osteoarthritis. However, no shoe was significantly superior to the other.

“There is currently no cure for knee osteoarthritis and there are few effective treatment options for patients living with this debilitating condition,” Professor Hinman said.

“From this study we now know that recreational walking shoes, with or without knee unloading features, can alleviate knee osteoarthritis pain and improve mobility. We also know that self-management strategies to alleviate the discomfort of knee osteoarthritis are attractive to sufferers.

“What is now needed is to move into longitudinal studies to determine if shoes that reduce the load on the knee can slow the structural progression of knee osteoarthritis over longer timeframes.”