Are Minimalist Shoes Good for Your Knees?

Minimalist shoes were found to be extremely good for the knees because they improved pain symptoms and structural damage related to knee osteoarthritis.

Research has confirmed and affirmed that the progression of the severity of knee osteoarthritis can be reducible by minimalist footwear or even going barefoot more often as compared with routine use of thickly cushioned, stability footwear.

Even better, minimalist shoes and increased barefoot activity were found to improve longevity of bone health and musculoskeletal function in osteoarthritis sufferers as well!

Are Minimalist Shoes Good for Your Knees?

What are minimalist shoes? Minimalist shoes are intended to mimic as if you’re barefoot because they have a paper-thin, flat sole which produces excellent ground-feel, and they’re also wide, flexible and light. The significance of these features have been consistently shown to improve the shape and functional strength of the feet, thereby resulting in a more healthy, tolerant foot. In this way, when the feet are strong, balance stability improves, which can greatly unburden the knees.

But as mentioned earlier, minimalist shoes and barefooting go beyond strengthening the feet. They also strengthen the knees by making the knee-joint significantly more stable via improving knee abduction moments as compared with wearing conventional footwear.

  • Knee abduction moment is a measure of loading on the knee during walking and running whereby a high knee abduction moment is a known risk factor for knee osteoarthritis.

The latest research has shown that conventional athletic footwear with thick, inflexible cushioning, a raised heel and stability features increases the risk of knee osteoarthritis by increasing knee abduction moments and torque.

  • The increases in knee abduction moments and torque arise from the restricted degree of freedom of the foot imposed by the raised, cushioned heel and the inflexible design of most conventional walking and running shoes.

A consistent consequence of a lack of physical engagement of the foot are negative changes in foot health, namely tissue and bone deterioration, which not only makes a weak foot even weaker, it also increases footstep instability which increases mechanical loads on the knee.

The good news is, there’s more scientific backing showing minimalist footwear as well as going barefoot reduces knee abduction moments and torque by improving biomechanics, foot flexibility as well as bone and joint strength in the foot and the lower leg in osteoarthritis sufferers!

This data trend is consistent with the fact that chronic dependence on overly cushioned, stability footwear not only weakens the foot, but alters your mechanics in ways that can contribute to severe knee damage, whereas barefoot or barefoot-like footwear will always be safer since both conditions elicit the strongest responses in functional recovery in foot and knee-joint health.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, you’ll love my content over at my YouTube channel, here, where I go into more detail about the evidenced-based facts on the performance and injury preventative advantages of forefoot running vs heel strike running.

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Bergmann et al. (1995). Influence of shoes and heel strike on the loading of the hip joint. J Biomech 7, 817-27.

Fang et al. (2006). Effects of footwear on medial compartment knee osteoarthritis.

Shakoor, N and Block, JA. (2006).  Walking barefoot decreases loading on the lower extremity joints in knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum 9, 2923-7.

Trombini-Souza et al. (2012). Effectiveness of a long-term use of a minimalist footwear versus habitual shoe on pain, function and mechanical loads in knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial. BMC 13,121.

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Perkins et al. The risks and benefits of running barefoot or in minimalist shoes: a systematic review. Sports Health, 2014; 6(6):475.480.

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches