Cane may ease the load on arthritic knees
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Older adults with knee arthritis may be able to reduce some of the load on their knee joint by walking with a cane, a new study suggests.
Australian researchers found that when they had 20 knee arthritis patients walk with a cane, it lessened the force on the inner side of the knee joint with each step.
All of the study participants were older than 50 and suffering from medial knee osteoarthritis -- a common form of arthritis that affects the side of the joint closer to the midline of the body.
The findings suggest that the majority of people with this type of knee arthritis can reduce the "load" on the inner knee by using a cane, senior researcher Dr. Rana S. Hinman told Reuters Health.
In theory, this could slow the progression of the arthritis, though that is not yet proven, said Hinman, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne School of Physiotherapy.
"This may have implications for a reduced risk of disease progression over time," she said, "but research is needed to determine whether this really is the case."
Hinman and her colleagues report the findings in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.
The study included 40 men and women with painful medial knee arthritis. The researchers used a six-camera motion analysis system to closely study each patient's gait as he or she walked -- both barefoot and while wearing comfortable shoes.
Half of the study participants also had their gait analyzed while using a cane on the side opposite of the painful knee.
In general, Hinman's team found, the cane reduced the force on the inner knee.
On the other hand, walking while wearing shoes put more stress on the joint than walking barefoot did.
It's not clear why shoes had this effect, according to the researchers. And since walking around barefoot is not practical, at least outside of home, no one is recommending that knee arthritis sufferers try it.
Instead, more studies are needed to see what types of shoes are best for people with medial knee arthritis, Hinman and her colleagues say.
In the meantime, it is a good idea for women with the condition to avoid high heels, Hinman noted, since they are likely to increase the force on the inner knee. She added that shoe inserts called laterally- wedged insoles -- which are angled to be higher on the outer edge of the foot -- can also reduce the force on the inner side of the knee.
However, Hinman said, studies have not yet conclusively shown that the insoles actually improve knee arthritis symptoms.
SOURCE: Arthritis Care & Research, May 15, 2008.