Gel Insoles May Be Worth a Try for Knee Pain

Q. I have knee osteoarthritis. Are shock-absorbing gel insoles effective in reducing pain?

A. Perhaps. A small Canadian study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in 2012 examined the efficacy of shock-absorbing gel insoles in shoes. The findings suggest that wearing those insoles can indeed help reduce knee osteoarthritis pain and improve physical function as well.

Researchers recruited 16 adults with knee osteoarthritis. At the start of the study, all participants wore electronic sensors that measured weight load on the knee while they underwent a timed gait test when wearing and not wearing gel insoles. Pain was assessed using questionnaires, and physical function was assessed by questionnaire and by having participants climb a staircase while being timed. Participants then wore gel insoles as they went about their normal activities for one month.

At the end of the study, all participants reported less knee pain and improved physical function. They also completed the stair-climbing test slightly faster. However, there was little evidence demonstrating that gel insoles actually resulted in any physical changes that could explain these improvements: Walking speed remained the same and weight load on the arthritic knee did not change as a result of wearing insoles—findings that suggest the placebo effect may have been at work. Still, gel insoles may help you feel better, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to give them a try.