A running shoe for bad knees absorbs the often extreme shocks created while running.
In most cases, they have slightly oversized outsoles for that purpose, as well as additional padding inside. Running shoes for bad knees are often able to provide effective relief for knee pain caused by patellar tendonitis, overpronation, osteoarthritis of the knee, and other causes.
While bad knees are most often associated with older individuals, it is not exclusive to them. Running shoes that address knee pain can be useful for anyone of any age. We’ve surveyed the running shoe landscape to compile the following list of the best running shoes for bad knees, updated for 2023.
1. ASICS Men’s Gel-Venture 6
Asics has a knack for producing some of the best specialty athletic footwear out there. Their Men’s Gel-Venture shoe is at the top of the class when it comes to providing comfort and support for those with bad knees. The ride is never mushy, and they do a good job correcting for overpronation or supination.
What we like: We appreciate the outstanding job these shoes do absorbing shocks. We like how firm they hold the foot and how they promote a comfortable gait. And we like how breathable and cool they are, even on hot days. They’re also available in a couple of dozen color combinations.
Flaws: Sizing can be somewhat hit or miss. Traction loses some of its bite in the rain.
2. New Balance Women’s 1080v9
New Balance has always been the BMW of athletic footwear. They’re engineered to the max and presented in a clean but aggressive-looking package that does nothing but perform. The Women’s 1080v9 is a high-performance shoe that also just happens to be great for people with bad knees.
What we like: We like how stable they keep your feet regardless of the running surface. The foam insole is also very comfortable. The shoes promote a nice smooth step motion, and they look good doing it. Great for those who experience overpronation.
Flaws: The sole is so wide it might take some getting used to. Also, the non-padded collar can irritate on hot days.
3. Nike Men’s Dart 11 Running Shoe
The Nike Men’s Dart 11 does a good job alleviating the pain of osteoarthritis and patellar tendonitis. It’s also great for those whose knee pain may be the result of bad mechanics as it gently but firmly encourages a proper gait.
What we like: Despite their unusual appearance, these shoes do a good job negating the bad aspects of running. We like how breathable they are and how comfortable. It’s also a plus that they’re unusually light. And they hold their ground even on wet surfaces.
Flaws: Not sure what they were thinking with the look of the shoe. And if you need serious padding, this isn’t for you.
4. Saucony Women’s Cohesion 10 Running Shoe
You can tell just by looking at them that the Cohesion 10 from Saucony are serious about providing support and comfort. They hold the ground firmly in all conditions, soak up shocks like there’s no tomorrow, and won’t require you take out a second mortgage to get a pair.
What we like: We like that the Cohesion 10 feels every bit as solid as they look. We like that they protect against both overpronation and supination. We also like the comfortable padded collar, the affordability, and that they’re available in a range of compelling colors.
Flaws: They hold your feet in an unmistakably firm grip. Some will like that, and some will not. Some will mistake the firm hold for a sizing issue. It’s not.
5. Asics Men’s Gel-Kayano 26
Asics makes a second appearance on our list with their outstanding Men’s Gel-Kayano 26. They absorb shocks with alacrity, hold your foot in proper alignment from heel to toe, and are quite cool even on steamy days.
What we like: We like the way the SepvaFoam absorbs shocks while running. We appreciate how light these shoes are relative to other similar shoes. And they provide a solid hold that makes them feel like an extension of your feet.
Flaws: The design leaves something to be desired. And if you get any color other than black, you’ll discover they’re not easy to clean.
6. New Balance Women’s W890V5 Neutral Running Shoe
The New Balance Women’s W890V5 is a neutral shoe. That means it’s not designed to address issues such as overpronation. However, if what you want is an attractive, well-built shoe that will protect your knees from the wear and tear of running, you won’t find better.
What we like: The shoes are very attractive as well as being durable and breathable. The sole absorbs shocks like a sponge and handles various surfaces with equal aplomb. The no-sew upper reduces irritation inside, and the collar is well padded and easy on the skin.
Flaws: The toe box is pretty narrow. And they are going to be a challenge to keep clean.
7. New Balance Men’s 1080v9 Fresh Foam
The Men’s 1080v9 is an animal when it comes to absorbing the forces produced by running. They also happen to be attractive, rugged, and light. The thing that kept them from rising higher on our list is the lack of cushioning around the collar.
What we like: This is a reasonably priced running shoe that’s handsome and well-cushioned. It’s fitted with extra cushioning to accommodate men, who are typically heavier than women.
Flaws: There’s no padding around the collar of the shoe. Not sure what the thinking was there. That and they’re pretty expensive.
8. Mizuno Women’s Wave Rider 20
If your bad knees are the result of wear and tear instead of something like supination, you’ll enjoy the Wave Rider 20. It’s a neutral running shoe, so it assumes you don’t have any alignment issues. Instead, it puts all its emphasis on drinking in the shocks created by running.
What we like: If knee pain is more an occasional annoyance rather than a daily ordeal, this is the shoe for you. It’s very well made, provides a stable hold for your feet, and is well-built with plenty of leather in the upper.
Flaws: While they do a great job absorbing shocks, they’re not as breathable as some of the other shoes on our list.
9. adidas Men’s Supernova M Running Shoe
When you hold the Supernova M Running Shoe from adidas you can feel how bulky it is. But put it down and regard it from a distance and it looks sleek and slim. Fortunately, the shoe puts all its hidden bulk to use, absorbing the forces created by running.
What we like: We like the simple, clean lines of the shoe. The oversized outsole really soaks up the shocks. While the dual-density boost cushioning compensates for overpronation. You can feel the shoes pushing you forward to the next step.
Flaws: The same thing that makes them a good choice for bad knees (cushy sole, soft all around) will limit their appeal with some folks.
10. Brooks Adrenaline GTS 18 Women’s Running Shoes
Brooks is not a household name like Nike or Adidas, but they have a solid reputation for producing consistently excellent footwear. The GTS 18 is buzzworthy for the custom-style fit it provides, the way it gobbles up shocks, and for its clean lines and overall attractiveness.
What we like: The GTS 18 shoes do an admirable job offsetting overpronation. They provide thick, comfortable cushioning in the heel. And they hold the foot in a firm but agreeable grip from the minute you slip them on. They’re available in an array of compelling color combinations and are perhaps the best looking women’s shoe on our list.
Flaws: The arch is pretty firm, and they tend to run a bit narrow.
Who Needs Running Shoes For Bad Knees?
Knee pain is often cumulative. That is, the longer you put stress and strain on the knee, the higher the likelihood of developing knee pain. As such – and although it can happen to anyone – it’s typically more of an issue with older individuals rather than 20 or 30-somethings. But regardless of your age, if you experience knee pain after walking or running, your footwear is likely a contributing factor.
“How’s that?” you say. Well, either your shoes are to blame for your bad knees (perhaps they’re not providing the support you need) or, at the very least, they don’t alleviate such pain when it occurs. So who needs running shoes for knee pain? Anyone who is experiencing knee pain and would like some relief. Depending on the cause of the pain, you may have to engage in additional types of therapy as well. But the right running shoes should help.
How We Ranked
When it comes to running shoes for people with bad knees, we want to see plenty of support from toe to heel. Also, since knee problems are sometimes the result of undetected issues like overpronation, we’re looking for shoes that encourage a proper gait. Obviously, if you have bad knees, you want a comfortable shoe. That means plenty of cushioning in the outsole and a midsole that does its part to absorb shocks, whether walking or running.
A common complaint you hear when it comes to some of the shoes on our list is that they’re too tight. But the fact is one of the reasons these shoes made our list is because of the firm hold they provide. People who don’t have knee issues may find that intense grasp too much to take. But those trying to alleviate knee pain are likely to appreciate it.
Many of the running shoes on our list cost more than $100. For a lot of folks, regardless of age, that’s a lot to spend on a pair of sneakers. So we subjected each and every shoe to a rigorous examination, looking carefully at every stitch and seam to make sure they’re worth the investment. We also put the insides under the microscope after running with them to see if everything stayed together.
We also considered the traction the shoe provided. Did it break down on uneven surfaces? Did it stand up to the rain? Were there any issues on flat, dry surfaces? Because of the way these shoes are made (with larger-than-average outsoles), they tend to be a bit heavier than other running shoes. That can make them hotter to run in. So the shoes needed to be breathable to dissipate this extra heat.
Q: Why would a person with bad knees run at all?
A: Because running is good for you. That said, if your pain is acute and intense, the first thing you should do is see your doctor and determine the cause of the pain. Once this has been established, (and as long as the cause is something that can be addressed with the right shoes), you may start running. You’ll need to wait until the pain subsides in most cases. But as long as the pain is the result of poor footwear, or something else you can address with the right shoes, then there’s no reason you can’t run again. And you should.
Q: Can you run with osteoarthritis?
A: Yes, it is possible to run with osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis of the knee (1) is a degenerative condition wherein the cartilage in the knee joint is gradually worn away. Over time bone begins to contact bone and the resulting pain can be intense. Many believe arthritis of the knee to be a one-way street to pain and immobility. But rather than allowing it to sideline you a better response is to keep the knee joint active (2). This builds up the muscles around the joint and can help slow joint degradation. The key is to engage in the right kinds of activity. If you’ve never run before, build up slowly by swimming or riding a stationary bike. Then move on to walking before you lace up your running shoes and start jogging.
Q: Will the right shoes let me run on any terrain?
A: If you suffer from knee pain but are determined to run, it is advisable to run on smooth, flat surfaces. This will minimize unexpected shocks, jolts, and twists that can sometimes happen when trail running. If your knee pain was the result of low-quality or poorly fitting footwear, it’s possible that over time the knee pain will subside and you can consider more challenging terrain. But when first starting out after experiencing knee pain, the flatter and smoother the surface the better.
Q: What are some common causes of knee pain?
A: Knee pain has a variety of possible causes including bursitis (3), bone chips (4), osteoarthritis, patellar tendonitis, a dislocated knee cap (5) and wearing the wrong shoes (6). That’s the bad news. The good news is that many of these conditions can be effectively treated by using the right running shoes. Others may require surgical intervention. Even so, running can once again enter the picture either as part of the rehabilitation process or afterward to keep the knee loose and strong.
Q: Can running shoes for bad knees help with overpronation?
A: Yes, many of the running shoes on our list will help with overpronation. Pronation is a term used to describe the tendency of the foot to roll slightly inward while walking or running. It’s part of the natural motion of the foot and is necessary to distribute the forces generated from these motions properly. In some people, however, this inward rolling motion is excessive. This is called ‘overpronation’ (7). Overpronation can create all sorts of uneven forces that radiate up the leg and put unnatural stress on the knee joint. With the right shoes, this problem can be effectively addressed, alleviating pain and discomfort.
Q: What can I do to minimize knee pain while running?
A: The right shoes are critical if you’re to avoid creating knee pain. But other things will also help prevent knee pain from rearing its head. Strength training of the lower body is paramount among them. Knee pain is sometimes caused by your legs simply not being up to what you’re asking of them. Strengthening your legs can fix this problem.
Q: Can being overweight cause knee pain?
A: It certainly can. Watching your weight is crucial to ensuring you don’t develop knee pain either from running or walking. Our bodies were simply not designed to handle the kind of weight many people today are carrying around. It’s imperative that if you are running as part of a weight loss program that you start slowly and only increase how much you run as you lose weight.
Q: Could my running form be causing my knee pain?
A: Yes, it’s possible your running form may be causing your knee pain. A lot of folks with knee pain assume the problem is something serious like bone spurs or arthritis. When, in fact, the pain they’re experiencing is a direct result of using improper form while running. Improper form will almost always make knee pain worse. And in some cases, it is the one and only cause of bad knees.
Q: What are some basics of proper running form?
A: The basics of proper running form include leaning forward while you run, making sure your feet don’t get out in front of you while running, keeping your knees low and keeping your feet oriented forward at all times. When we say ‘don’t let your feet get out in front of you’, we mean make sure they don’t get so far out front that the heel is driven into the ground absorbing all the shock. That is a recipe for all kinds of trouble, including knee pain.
Q: Is it important to stretch before running?
A: Stretching before you run is incredibly important (8). Even more so for older folks. When you’re in your teens and twenties, the body can compensate for your lack of stretching to some degree. But as you age, your body becomes less willing to entertain your bad habits. Regardless of how old you are, if you want to enjoy optimal benefits from your new running shoes, you’ll make sure you take the time to stretch before running. Stretching the quads and hamstrings is particularly important if you want to prevent knee pain.
Q: Should I ice my knees after running?
A: Pain and stiffness are often caused by inflammation of the knee joint. Despite some conflicting stories in the media lately ice remains an effective method for reducing inflammation and the pain and stiffness it can create (9). The right running shoes should help alleviate the problem of swollen knees. But if your knees are swelling up anyway after a run or vigorous walk, you would do well to ice them down. Just make sure you put a cloth of some kind between the ice and your skin. If it turns out the running shoes you chose are not preventing swollen, painful knees, stop running and discuss the matter with your physician.
Q: How quickly will the right running shoes get rid of my knee pain?
A: There is simply no way to say with any certainty. That’s because there are so many variables involved. Your age, weight, and overall physical condition will all play a part. What caused the knee pain in the first place is also going to weigh heavily on recovery time. As will the type of surfaces you’re running on, how far you run and whether you are using the proper form while running. The key is to be patient and methodical. Determine the cause beyond any doubt. Do whatever therapy is necessary before you take to the road again. When you do, make sure you’re using running shoes that will fend off knee pain and don’t push yourself too far, too fast.
Running shoes for knee pain can play a major role in helping people of all ages stay engaged and maintain vigorous health. In some cases, they will be all that is needed to alleviate your knee pain. In other cases, they will be part of a comprehensive therapeutic approach to recovery.
The best running shoes for bad knees feature plenty of shock-absorbent padding both outside and inside the shoe. They also tend to fit snug to ensure a proper motion while running or walking. And they’re made of lightweight, breathable materials to prevent your feet from overheating, which could undermine the effectiveness of the shoe.
All of the shoes on our list were tested for comfort and effectiveness. Regardless of the source of your knee pain, you’re sure to find one that will help.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended running shoe for bad knees, click here.