By Amber Sayer
I have been running for over 24 years, and have seen a lot of evolution in the comfort, design, features, and feel of running shoes for everyday runners. Through my own personal experience as a competitive runner as well as my professional experience reviewing running shoes and writing about running shoes, I have tried hundreds of models of running shoes.
This has helped me form a solid understanding of the type of running shoes that work best for me, as well as a more objective framework for evaluating whether a running shoe is high-quality, high-performing, and durable, and what type of runner would be best suited for a particular running shoe.
My Knee Pain
Of course, while any runner would love nothing more than to have healthy knees and zero knee pain ever, the reality is that a fair number of runners do indeed deal with knee injuries and knee pain. In my own years of running, I’ve dealt with various bouts of knee pain, so I know how frustrating and limiting running with the pain can be.
That said, since I always try to look for silver linings, one of the few lessons that can be taken from running with knee pain is trying to look at any potential contributions of your running shoes to causing knee pain, or at least considering if your running shoes are not helping your bad knees.
The right running shoes may help prevent knee pain in the first place and/or reduce the discomfort of running with bad knees if you suffer from chronic knee pain due to degenerative osteoarthritis or a chronic knee injury that just won’t go away.
Below, I’ve rounded up my picks for the best running shoes for runners with knee pain, along with advice from two experienced foot doctors for what to look for in shoes for knee pain.
What Features Make a Shoe Good for Knee Pain?
Dr. Timothy A. Karthas, DPM, a Podiatrist and marathon runner himself, says that the most important features to look for in a shoe for knee pain are proper support and ample cushioning.
“The cushioning of a shoe helps to ease the forces of impact on any joints of the lower extremity, including the knee. The support of the shoe is just as important. This includes the arch support of the shoe and the general stiffness of the shoe, which can help reduce unwanted motions in the foot such as excess pronation,” explains Dr. Karthas. “Excess pronation of the foot can lead to excess knee motion as well, which will cause pain in an arthritic joint.”
Dr. Mauricio Garcia, MD, an Orthopedic Surgeon and the Senior Project Manager for Hyper Arch Motion Sneakers, agrees that the main features to look for in shoes for knee pain are running shoes that provide enough cushioning and ample support.
“Shoes act as a shock absorber, so if you’re dealing with knee pain, you should prioritize shoes that have excellent cushioning, especially in the heel and forefoot area. This cushioning works to reduce the force felt in your knees during activities like running and/or walking,” explains Dr. Garcia.
“Shoes should also have a stable midsole to help prevent overpronation because the force from your foot and leg rolling inward places extra stress on your knees.”
Dr. Garcia adds a few other qualities of what to look for in shoes for knee pain.
He suggests, “You should also look for shoes with a slightly elevated heel or a rocker sole that allows your foot to move in a natural gait, and make sure that your shoes have a comfortable, snug fit to avoid any unnecessary friction.”
What are the Best Running Shoes for Knee Pain?
Here are my suggestions for the best running shoes for knee pain with other needs:
1. HOKA Bondi 8 - Best for Overweight Runners
“Knee arthritis can be problematic because as the cartilage wears away it causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joint making it difficult and often painful to walk, so it’s imperative to wear the right shoes,” advises Dr. Garcia. “Opt for shoes with superior cushioning in the heel and midsole to soften the impact of every step.”
Dr. Garcia advises that anyone with knee arthritis pay particular attention to the heel counter.
The heel counter of the running shoe is the part along the back of the heel near the Achilles tendon. It supports the heel to keep your foot secure in the shoe as you run.
You want the heel counter to cradle the heel without squeezing. If you overpronate, buying a stability running shoe will have a firmer heel counter that also reaches deeper into the shoe towards the insole to help control your heel when you land and prevent excessive pronation.
“Heel counters play a crucial role in the stability of a shoe, as well as provide arch support, and work to keep feet in proper alignment to prevent overpronation,” explains Dr. Garcia. “Someone dealing with arthritis in their knees will also want to look for shoes with a roomy toe box and adjustable closures to help alleviate any discomfort from swollen joints.”
Dr. Karthas says that the best shoes for knee arthritis will depend on the actual structure of the foot and whether you have a high or low arch.
“In general, I recommend stability or motion control sneakers for patients with knee arthritis, as these help with overpronation and tend to also have more dense foams to resist impact the best,” advises Dr. Karthas.
Dr. Garcia says that people who are overweight usually need running shoes with the same features as those that work well for runners with knee osteoarthritis—shoes that provide adequate support and great cushioning.
“Look for shoes with maximum cushioning to help distribute the impact evenly across both feet and ease any stress on the joints. Shoes with a wider base offer more stability, and reinforced midsoles help to maintain proper arch support,” explains Dr. Garcia. “Make sure to pick shoes that provide a comfortable fit, and are not too narrow to avoid friction or rubbing that can lead to painful problems like sores or blisters.”
Ultimately, the HOKA Bondi 8 running shoe earns a spot on this list of the best running shoe for knee pain, whether you are a heavier runner and/or have knee arthritis.
The HOKA Bondi 8 is a maximalist running shoe, so it has thicker cushioning on the bottom. This is referred to as the “stack height” of the shoe and is a bit different than the heel-to-toe drop. The stack height refers to the amount of cushioning material between your feet and the ground.
The thicker stack height is a common characteristic of running shoes for knee arthritis because ultimately what is constituting this higher stack height is all of the cushioning materials that are built up between the bottom of your foot and the ground.
It is this unmatched cushioning in the HOKA Bondi 8 along with the more supportive heel counter recommended by our foot doctors that make the HOKA Bondi 8 among the absolute top shoes for knee pain due to knee arthritis.
These cushioning materials aid shock absorption and it is an excellent feature of shoes for knee arthritis, since runners with osteoarthritis of the knees lack the cartilage to help absorb impact stresses when running.
Plus, particularly if you have flat feet and need extra support, you’ll love the stability and motion control features of this maximally cushioned running shoes—a winning combo for runners with knee arthritis or knee pain and overpronation.
2. Brooks Caldera 6 - Best Wide Toe Box Running Shoe
Specific to runners wanting a wider toe box who simultaneously are dealing with knee pain, I have chosen the Brooks Caldera 6 trail running shoes as the perfect running shoes to check both of these boxes.
If you are wearing a running shoe with a narrow or tapered toe box, the sides of the shoe can squeeze your forefoot when you push off and head into the next stride. This can put extra pressure on the metatarsal heads as well as the nerves and vasculature that run through the ball of your foot, increasing the risk of metatarsalgia, Morton’s neuroma, and even an eventual bunion.
Particularly if you already have these conditions, a wider toe box, such as that in the Brooks Caldera 6 running shoe, can be especially important and ideal.
One thing that I have always appreciated about Brooks running shoes is the wider toe box that the company uses in all of the shoe lasts (basically the shape of the shoe), no matter which model of Brooks running shoe you choose.
As mentioned, there is the roomy toe box found in pretty much every Brooks running shoe, but where this premium Brooks Caldera 6 running shoe really earns it’s accolade as the best Brooks running shoe for knee pain specifically is in the absolutely forgiving cushioning in these maximalist running shoes.
Studies have found that highly-cushioned running shoes can decrease joint impact stresses and muscle soreness after running.
When I say that running in these shoes feels like running on a cloud, it’s as if Brooks has engineered some kind of memory foam mattress right into the midsole of these running shoes while still miraculously keeping the shoes lightweight and high performing.
The Brooks Caldera 6 running shoes are technically designed to be trail running shoes, so there is super reliable traction on the bottom of the shoe, which further amplifies the stability you get as you run, whether on roads or trails.
Another noteworthy perk about this particular running shoe is that in alignment with the commitment of Brooks Running as a company to sustainability, there are recycled materials, such as recycled plastic bottles that have been diverted from landfills to help form parts of the shoe.
Overall, I was surprised at how easy it ended up being chosen as the best wide toe box running shoe for runners with knee pain—you won’t be disappointed with the Brooks Caldera 6 trail running shoes.
3. TYR SR-1 Tempo Runner - Best Lightweight Running Shoe
I used to associate the athletic brand TYR with only making swimming products, as the company has manufactured premium swimsuits for as long as I can remember. However, the TYR running shoes actually outperform some of the other lightweight running shoes that I’ve tried from more traditional running shoe brands.
My pick for the best lightweight running shoe for bad knees is the TYR SR-1 Tempo Runner running shoe. The TYR SR-1 Tempo Runner is super light; the men’s size 9 weighs a mere 7.6 ounces.
I really like that there is a low heel-to-toe drop of just 4 mm. This is much lower than the average running shoe, which is closer to 8 to 13 mm.
A low-heel drop running shoe can actually reduce stress on your knees if you allow yourself to gradually adjust because the low heel and flatter soul encourages landing on the midfoot instead of your heel.
When you land on your midfoot, you’re not only supporting forward momentum, but your body is able to take advantage of the natural shock attenuation when your arch decompresses and then springs back up into place, reducing impact stress on your bad knees.
Plus, heel striking in traditional running shoes puts a forceful stress in the backwards direction of your tibia, which then is hard on your knees.
All this is to say that the TYR SR-1 Tempo Runner shoes support optimal biomechanics when you run to help prevent knee pain and gradually resolve knee pain that is caused by heel striking. Just take your time adjusting to them—gradually introduce them into your running shoe rotation until your body has adapted to such a lightweight, low-heel-drop running shoe.
Another feature that makes the TYR SR-1 Tempo Runner the best minimalist shoe for knee pain is that this lightweight running shoe uses proprietary Surge NRG+ enhanced with top-of-the-line foam for ultimate cushioning and responsiveness. There is a beveled heel for impact shock at ground contact and improved traction.
The super-light TYR SR-1 Tempo Runner feels like a sock, meaning that they are ultra-breathable and you feel fast and light on your feet as you run. There is a molded sock liner for comfort and a gusseted tongue to snuggly hold your foot in place while still allowing flexible freedom of movement.
4. Lululemon Blissfeel 2 Women's Running Shoes - Best for Women with Knee Pain
If you’re anything like me, you primarily associate Lululemon with premium yoga and fitness clothing, but the company also makes women-specific running shoes, which is pretty cool.
In fact, there are now several Lululemon running shoes to choose from, and my pick for the best running shoes for women with bad knees—the Lululemon Blissfeel 2 Women's Running Shoes— is already in the second generation.
What I love about the Lululemon Blissfeel 2 running shoes is that they are not called women’s running shoes because they come in “feminine” colors and sizes (remember the old “shrink ‘em and pink ‘em approach to making running shoes for women?!), but the Lululemon Blissfeel 2 running shoes are specifically designed to fit women.
In fact, for improved fit, comfort, feel, and performance for women runners, these Lululemon women’s running shoes were designed based on research on the shape and size of the feet taken from 3D foot scans of over one million women plus four years of research.
The result is one of the top shoes for women with knee pain, whether chronic or acute.
The Lululemon Blissfeel 2 running shoe has lightweight, durable, high-performing foam for cushioning. The foam helps provide shock absorption to offload stress on your knees when you land but also some nice rebound and energy return when you push off so that you feel fast and light on your feet.
The upper is designed to hold your foot in the optimal positioning while allowing plenty of air flow and breathability, and the shoe is neutral, which means that it doesn’t overcorrect your running gait if your don’t need added support.
I would describe the Lululemon Blissfeel 2 Women’s Running Shoes as feeling springy yet soft, weighing just 251 grams (8.9 oz) for a US Women’s size 7.
The Lululemon Blissfeel Women’s Running Shoes come in over a dozen cute colors and patterns, such as Cloud Blue/Marlin/Polar Ice and Mink Berry/Mink Berry/Light Vapor.
One nice perk is that there’s a 30-day return policy so you can test drive them for nearly a month, and return them if you don’t fall in love with these running shoes.
5. Saucony Peregrine 13 - Best Trail Shoes for Knee Pain
The Saucony Peregrine 13 is a fantastic trail running shoe and definitely earns my pick for the best trail running shoe for knee pain.
Like all of the premium Saucony running shoes, the Saucony Peregrine 13 has the top-of-the-line PWRRUN foam cushioning to help attenuate impact forces and take stress off your knees, hips, ankles, and feet.
What I like most about the Saucony Peregrine 13 running shoes is that compared to some of the other selections on this list of the top shoes for knee pain is that although the shoe is still well cushioned to help absorb impact stresses, the Saucony cushioning material is extremely lightweight and responsive.
What this means practically is that the shoes provide the function to help reduce knee pain when you land yet they don’t weigh you down or make you feel like you are lugging around bricks on your feet when you are trying to run fast.
This is especially unique for running shoes for bad knees because running shoes generally have a heavier average weight due to the superior traction in the outsole.
I have found that many of the top trail running shoes from popular running brands feel notably heavy, stiff, and not very conducive to feeling light and agile on your feet whether you are on the trails or running home from your favorite trail running spot.
This is really where the Saucony Peregrine 13 trail running shoes shine. They are ultra lightweight yet you get unparalleled traction on wet trails from the PWRTRAC rubber outsole and the rock guard keeps your feet safe if you are clumsy and uncoordinated like I am.
Finally, another great feature that makes these the ideal running shoes for knee pain is that they have a low heel-to-toe drop of just 4 mm to really encourage a natural running stride and landing on your mid foot to save your knees from all of the excessive forces from heel striking.
These trail running shoes also come in wide sizes, are vegan, and made from recycled materials—all pluses in my book!
For more ideas on the best footwear for your needs, check out our guide to the best running shoes for plantar fasciitis here.