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If you’re searching for “the best running shoes for bad knees“, you’re probably at a stage where knee pain is starting to restrict your running.
It’s one of the most common complaints seen by our Physios and coaches and finding the best running shoes for knee pain can make the world of difference.
We get asked whether it’s best to get cushioned running shoes for bad knees, supportive running shoes for knee pain or something in between.
More recently, maximal shoes have seen an explosion in popularity so the other common question is “should I get Hoka running shoes for bad knees?“
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Why it’s so important to keep running despite knee pain
Bad knees are one of the most common causes of early retirement in runners.
It makes running unpleasant, when the focus is on avoiding hills, or distance, or pace so that your knees are causing you grief for the next few days.
The default option of turning away from running and buying a bike doesn’t offer the same health benefits as running.
Running has benefits for heart health and fitness, like cycling, but it also has benefits for bone health and connective tissue quality, which cycling doesn’t provide.
So your goal should be to keep running as long as possible, with a little help from the right running shoes for knee pain.
But it’s not just about buying an expensive pair of running shoes – there are some very pricey shoes that are terrible for sore knees.
You need to find the best running shoes for bad knees that give your knees the support that they need.
That might be more cushioning (which required less knee bend on landing) or more support (which reduces the twist on the knee during landing).
It’s worth experimenting to find the right shoes but that can be a costly approach.
If possible, look for a local running group or specialist running shoe retailer that’s holding a shoe testing day – you get to try on multiple options AND you get to have a run in them.
Once you’ve got the best running shoes for bad knees, you’ll get less knee discomfort during and after running.
Once you’re into your groove, you need to maintain consistent running volumes and add a good strength program.
If the running shoes are doing their job, you can wear them while doing your strength training so that your knees don’t get aggravated during the program.
Then it’s a matter of chipping away at building strength and running resilience over the long term – DON’T RUSH IT!
With that combination and the best running shoes for bad knees, you can successfully postpone that retirement and keep on moving.
What causes knee pain during running?
Most knee pain during running is a result of the way the knees are being loaded and the pressure it puts on an existing vulnerable area.
The area might be vulnerable due to an existing sensitive irritation or inflammatory reaction or it might be due to a previous injury or degenerative process.
As the supporting muscles begin to fatigue mid-run, the loading on the knee joint (mainly the cartilage, bone and tendons) changes and the knee pain starts to become noticeable.
Once the sensitivity and pain starts, pushing on with running usually maintains the ongoing irritation to the area.
It’s why the pain starts gradually but then continues to build over the next few weeks.
How to relieve knee pain from running
Rest from running will temporarily relieve the pain but it also leaves you weaker and more likely to cause irritation when you return.
(You can read more about the negative effects of rest in this post).
Effective treatments for knee pain
To avoid resting, while still getting on top of the injury, you can add strength training to your program.
But the effects tend to take up to a month before you’ll notice positive changes with less knee pain while running.
You can also look at reducing body weight, which has a big impact on knee loading – did you know that 5kg less body weight is up to 40kg less loading on the knee joint?!?
Both strength training and reduced bodyweight are proven to be more effective than surgery for chronic knee pain, but they don’t kick in instantly.
Using running shoes to help knee pain
One of the best, and quickest, ways of being able to redistribute the load away from the cause of your knee pain is to find the best running shoes for bad knees.
The best running shoes for knee pain are able to move the pressure away from your knees and on to the muscles around the area.
Some Physio-recommended running shoes will even do a lot of the work for you – there’s extra plush cushioned shoes like Hoka running shoes designed to soften the landing and reduce the work on knee muscles.
(They work by offering more cushioning so you don’t need to shock-absorb as much with your joints and muscles and you can land with your knee in a straighter position.)
Other running shoes make you more stable and controlled, allowing the stabilising muscles around the hip to work less and fatigue later.
(This type of running shoe helps to reduce knee pain by making it easier to control rotation of the leg, reducing the work of the muscles and delaying the point of muscle fatigue on a run.)
(To understand the different parts and functions of a running shoe, check out this post).
How to choose the best running shoes for bad knees
The old approach to finding the best running shoes for bad knees used to be more support is better – luckily there’s been a big paradigm shift over the last decade.
Finding the best running shoes for bad knees is about finding the right shoe that matches your needs.
You might like cushioning or support, firm or soft, narrow or wide fit – it must match your needs.
So avoid getting recommendations from friends on their best running shoes for bad knees as your feet/knees/legs are unique (well, kind of…there’s actually two of them).
The process of testing out a new running shoe
Obviously it’d be great to test out a new shoe with a 5km run, but by then you’ve bought the shoe and there’s no going back.
You’ve either found the best running shoes for bad knees (WIN!) or you’ve blown $200+ and just found an expensive pair of gardening shoes (BIG LOSS!)
Step-by-step guide to evaluating running shoes
To work out which are YOUR best running shoes for knee pain, try this simple process.
- Take off your existing shoes and socks so that you are barefoot
- Perform a few quarter depth single leg squats and rate any knee pain out of 10
- Perform a few short hops and rate the pain out of 10
- Try on a new shoe in the correct size and width
- Perform the same number of single leg squats again (same depth as before) – did your knee pain reduce by 2/10 or more?
- Try the hopping again (same distance and height as before) – did the knee pain reduce by 2/10 or more?
- Then twist/rotate your foot side to side – does the foot move in the shoe or does the shoe move on the ground?
Outcome of a successful test
If you’ve found the best running shoes for bad knees specific to your biomechanics:
- Pain on single leg squat and/or hopping will be reduced by at least 2/10 (1/10 might just be chance or wishful thinking)
- The foot is well contained in the shoe so any twisting or rotating movements causes the shoe to move on the ground, not for your foot to move inside the shoe
If it fits that criteria, you’ve probably found a winner!
Now to find your favourite colour…
Should you stick with the same shoe model every year?
It’s worth noting at this point that shoe design and materials change from year to year, and feet gradually change from year to year as well.
Just because you’ve found the best running shoes for bad knees today doesn’t mean that you’ve found your winner for life!
It’s worth repeating the evaluation process above every year or two to see if it’s still the best running shoe match for your needs.
(Side note: don’t buy your shoes in bulk – it seems like every time someone buys 4 x pairs, their needs change and your best running shoes for bad knees become your casual shoes for trips to the mall!)
List of the best running shoes for bad knees
Our Physiotherapists have compiled a list of the best running shoes for bad knees based on the features that match different injuries around the knee.
Running shoes for pain at the front of knee
Hoka One One Bondi
Stack height: 42mm, heel-toe offset: 4mm, weight: 315g(m), 286g(f)
Our recommendation: Hoka Bondi is the best maximalist cushioned running shoe on the market at the moment.
This shoe provides an extremely plush cushion to run on. This allows you to land with your knee in a straighter position to minimise pressure on the front of the knee.
You’ll struggle to find these shoes on special or discounted anywhere – Hoka doesn’t need to discount to sell.
But they are one of the most popular and best running shoes for bad knees for good reason!!!
Hoka One One Arahi
Stack height: 35mm, heel-toe offset: 5mm, weight: 264g(m), 218g(f)
Our recommendation: for Hoka fans who are looking for a plush shoe with a hint of support.
Much like the Bondi, this shoe provides a plush cushion along with additional stability. This means you can land with a straighter knee as well as getting support from twisting pressures on the knee.
It offers a unique combination of max cushioning and some support which isn’t found in any other shoe at the moment.
On a list of the best running shoes for bad knees, it typically makes the top 5 for most Physiotherapist’s recommendations.
Running shoes for medial and/or lateral knee pain
Stack height: 35mm, heel-toe offset: 10mm, weight: 317g(m), 260g(f)
Our recommendation: Kayano is best suited to runners who need genuine support in a high performance running shoe.
This popular shoe has been around forever. It provides a great amount of stability under the arch along with a comfortable feel.
That stability reduces the twisting motion on the knee during running, one of the main irritants of medial and lateral knee pain.
That feature, along with the fact that this model has been around since the dawn of time, puts the Asics Kayano in the top 3 shoes for any best running shoes for bad knees list.
Stack height: 35mm, heel-toe offset: 8mm, weight: 269g(m), 235g(f)
Our recommendation: perfect for runners who like a light feel with mid-level support.
Another sturdy shoe, the Saucony Guide provides similar stability to the Kayano but fits better for narrower feet and foot shapes that tend to like Nike, Adidas and (obviously) Saucony.
Not as popular as the Kayano or the Bondi but Saucony is making huge in-roads with the Guide after some recent design updates.
Running shoes for bad knees and wide feet
Wide feet are often associated with bad knees as they’re caused by the same biomechanical forces.
Stack height: 31mm, heel-toe offset: 8mm, weight: 277g(m), 252g(f)
Our recommendation: one of the best all-rounders, for those who like a balanced mix of support and cushioning.
This classic running shoe provides moderate level stability with good cushioning.
Aside from being one of the best running shoes for bad knees, it’s also one the most popular all-rounders on the market.
It’s available in a wide fit (2E for men, D for women) and in a range of colours.
Stack height: 36mm, heel-toe offset: 12mm, weight: 289g(m), 249g(f)
Our recommendation: lighter and with more bounce than the previous version, they’ll suit runners looking for a comfortable cushy ride.
The Adrenaline has undergone a makeover in recent years, and mostly for the better.
It’s lighter, more comfortable and better fitting than previous models.
It’s available in a wide fit (D for women, 2E for men).
It used to be towards the top of the list for supportive options in the best running shoes for bad knees but the recent design changes have shifted it towards a more cushioned approach.
Trail running shoes for knee pain
Hoka One One Speedgoat
Stack height: 36mm, heel-toe offset: 4mm, weight: 280g(m), 246g(f)
Our recommendation: Speedgoat will suit trail runners looking for a responsive running shoe with great grip to use exclusively on trail
This shoe combines Hoka’s plush cushioning with a snug fit and amazing grip – definitely one of the best running shoes for bad knees in the trail market.
It’s only been on the market for a little over 4 years but has become one of the most popular trail options for good reason.
Just be warned that each model has a very different feel. So if you try on the Speedgoat 4, avoid the temptation to pay a little less for last year’s Speedgoat 3.
Our recommendation: while the Speedcross is a great shoe, it’s built for a very specific purpose – traction! If you’re on softer trails, it’s great. But if you’re on harder surfaces, the lugs can be uncomfortable and quickly rip off.
This solid shoe is perfect for rugged, mountainous conditions and provides a firm, well-fitted trail option.
That combination makes it one of the best running shoes for bad knees on trails and hugely popular throughout Europe, although it’s a little less suited to other conditions around the world.
The grip is super aggressive, so you won’t be able to use it on road without shredding the lugs off pretty quickly.
Don’t be fooled by the waterproof Goretex lining though – it’s only good for puddles that don’t flow over the top of the shoe (about 8-10cm deep) so it’s useless for most creek crossings. The Goretex model is also prone to overheating in hot weather conditions.
Disclaimer for Best Running Shoes for Bad Knees
**Special note: this article has Physiotherapist-recommended products with affiliate links to trusted vendors, selected for their fast & reliable service and great prices. The article was written prior to sourcing the affiliate links and the links in no way influence our recommendations.