When it comes to sneaker shopping, how new kicks feel on your feet–roomy in the toes, sturdy in the arch–and whether they’re supportive enough of your ankles tend to be the primary boxes people want to tick off. (Aside from looking good, of course.)
What you may not realize, though, is that the structure of your shoes can affect parts of your body farther up, too, especially joints like your knees and hips. That’s because they’re all connected, forming a kinetic chain that makes movement happen–something to keep in mind when shopping for the best sneakers for your knees.
Every time you take a step, many things are happening in your body to propel you forward, says Jensen Henry, MD, an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “Throughout the step, your hip muscles contract to stabilize your hip, your quads and hamstrings fire at specific times, and muscles in your lower leg activate in a chain of events,” Dr. Henry explains. Meanwhile, your knee mobility works to stabilize your center of gravity, decrease your energy expenditure, and absorb the shock of your heel striking the ground.
Sitting in the middle of this kinetic chain, your knee is impacted by the health and function of the muscles and joints that live both above and below it. So tight hips or hamstrings, for example, could impact knee stability. So can the sneakers you wear. “A simple change in footwear, and the position of the foot, can completely change the gait pattern and compromise your performance and balance,” Dr. Henry says.
What the best sneakers for your knees all have in common
“I typically recommend a sneaker with a stable, supportive sole and a design that cradles the foot,” Dr. Henry says. “Ideally, this maintains ankle motion and absorbs the shock when your heel hits the ground, which are both factors that are important to minimize excess force across the knee.”
To check for this, Dr. Henry recommends performing the following test: “If you can take the sneaker in your hands and curl it into a ball, it’s often too flexible for patients with foot/ankle or lower extremity problems,” she says.
Other factors to consider when shopping for the best sneakers for your knees
Because fit is so important, Dr. Henry suggests looking into sneakers designed specifically for either male or female feet. “Some footwear brands make gender-specific shoes, which account for differences in the width of the heel or the forefoot, and may be better tolerated by some people,” she says.
Furthermore, while finding your Cinderella sneaker is certainly a happy ending, it won’t last forever, especially if you’re someone who loves to regularly take hot girl walks or otherwise stay active. “It’s important to routinely replace old shoes that have worn out,” Dr. Henry says. “Running experts typically recommend every 300 to 500 miles, or about every six months.
Finally, before you replace your worn-out sneakers, take a moment to inspect them. “If you’re noticing that your shoes are wearing unevenly, it may be time to see a professional–we can identify if there’s an alignment or gait issue that can be addressed,” Dr. Henry says.
With all of this in mind, below are options that all include the features Dr. Henry says the best sneakers for your knees should have.
Adidas Terrex Free Hiker 2 — $200.00
The instability of unfamiliar, oft-changing terrain underfoot can be hard on your knees and other joints, but the shock-absorbing soles on this trail sneaker helps mitigate that impact. The high-top design offers extra support for your ankles, something that’ll help your knees and hips, too.