The knee is made up of bone, cartilage, ligaments, muscles, tendons and joints. If any one of these structures are damaged or diseased, you can experience knee pain, difficulties walking and limited mobility. Arthritis, which affects about 9 million Americans, can wear away tissues in the knee, causing swelling. Sports and exercise exposes you to accidents that can cause long-term chronic pain. Shoe inserts are just one of the treatments for knee pain.
Shoe inserts, also known as orthotics, are medical devices that you put in your shoe to provide arch support. Insoles work by altering and cushioning the force between the foot and ankle, which can help ease knee pain. Inserts also change the alignment and movement of the foot. Orthotics are useful as a short-term solution and to help prevent injuries.
Conditions that can be treated with orthotics include patellofemoral pain, iliotibial band syndrome and certain types of arthritis. Patellofemoral pain, also known as knee pain, can be caused by overload of the knee joint, muscular dysfunction and movement problems. People with patellofemoral pain, which can occur in one or both knees, often experience pain at the front of the knee during activity and worsens when going down stairs or hills. Iliotibial band syndrome refers to pain on the outer side of the knee from a trauma or injury and often occurs in runners. Osteoarthritis of the knee is a joint disease that results in the degeneration of knee cartilage, which is a cushioning layer of tissue located between the bones.
There are generally two types of orthotics, the kind you can buy in any ordinary pharmacy, sports or general store, and those that are custom made. The advantages of mass-market orthotics are that they are inexpensive and fit into most casual shoes. The disadvantages, however, are many. Store-bought shoe inserts do not fit all types of feet and can wear out quickly. While it may take some time to get used to inserts, your foot should adjust after two or three weeks. By continuing to wear an insole that is uncomfortable, you could end up causing more pain and damage. Custom made orthotics are prescribed by a doctor of podiatric medicine and designed using a mold of your foot. While they can be very expensive, depending on your diagnoses, they may be covered by your health insurance.
In a 1998 study published by the American Podiatric Medical Association, researchers reviewed 102 patients between the ages of 12 and 87 treated for knee pain with shoe inserts. At a follow-up appointment, 76.5 percent of patients reported a significant decrease in pain after using the inserts. Seamus Kennedy, president of a company that manufactures custom orthotics, explains that choosing the right kind of orthotics is difficult. A 2003 study published in the journal “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” evaluated the fit of four different shoe inserts on knee joints. The researchers found that after several decades of using orthotics to treat a variety of lower-limb pain and disease, experts are no closer to quickly diagnosing the correct shoe insert for every individual.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Knee Osteoarthritis Statistics
- "American Family Physician"; Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome; Dr. Mark S. Juhn; Nov. 1, 1999
- Dr. Stephen M. Pribut’s Sport Pages: Iliotibial Band Syndrome
- Knee Pain Info: Orthotics for Knees
- American Podiatric Medical Association: The Effect of Foot Orthoses on Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
- "The New York Times"; Orthotic Shoe Inserts May Work, But it’s Not Clear Why; Gina Kolata; Jan. 17, 2011