8 Best Running Shoes for Bad Knees in 2021

What causes bad knees?

Our knees are designed to provide balance when we are standing and aid in movement when we are in motion. The knee joint’s role is to provide robust support to your lower body and help with weight distribution. When you have harsh impacts or improper weight distribution while the joint is moving, it can result in dislocation or subluxation, which is the malalignment of the joint. This misalignment is a result of tearing or fracturing of our ligaments, cartilage or bones. Sometimes it is not just high impact or distribution issues, but also improper hip joint movement, creating more pressure on our knees. 

What is its effect on our body?

Apart from the pain of malaligned knees, and repeated stress causing more pain as your running or jogging goes on, bad knees can be signs of more serious issues as well. One such issue is the wearing of our knee cap, caused by excessive rubbing on our lower thigh bone. Under intense pressure, there is friction generated that damages the cartilage in the area leading to serious pain. Excessive running, over-use of the thigh and hip muscles, or wearing the wrong shoes can cause excessive stress on our ligament and result in this wearing down.

Another related issue is Iliotibial Band Syndrome, which is a common cause of knee pain, resulting from the excessive rubbing of the Iliotibial band (extending from our hip to the outside of the knee) against the lower thigh bone and becoming inflamed, creating pain. This issue can come about from running on even surfaces, climbing downhills, frequently biking, or wearing improper shoes that aren’t supporting your joints well.

Tips for people with bad knees

If you have persistent knee pain, while it is recommended to get a pair of stellar shoes to alleviate most of the root issues, here are some general tips and pointers to reduce the pain you experience:

  1. Avoid wearing worn-out pairs of shoes, as they are prone to cause misalignment and not provide enough support
  2. Do regular stretches in a proper manner, relaxing your muscles and preparing them for an upcoming activity
  3. Buy based on comfort rather than looks, if you have pain you should remedy it instead of opting for a shoe that looks better but helps less

1. Brooks Glycerin 17

First on our list are the Brooks Glycerin 17’s, a dedicated running shoe that aims to provide support and good riding experience. The 17’s are a combination of mesh and synthetic fabric on the upper, with areas of high breathability and lightweight design, with more durable aspects to make sure it is still structurally sound and not flimsy. The mesh is a Double Jacquard, made to provide high breathability, flexibility, and still remain firm in key areas. Brooks has also employed the 3D Fit Print technology into the designing of the upper, meaning it snugly grips your foot, giving a nice sock-like feel that moves with you. On the inside, there is a DNA LOFT midsole that has strategic zones that help disperse impact to give you a smoother ride, and help ease pain in the joints and lower leg area by reducing stress. When you have knee pain, one of the easiest ways to reduce it is to expose your knees to less stress, like impact. The outsole is made of a firm and grippy rubber that is designed to be firm and able to give you footing on most any surface. All things considered, the Glycerin 17’s are a good pick for their great impact control and comfort, making a noticeable difference in your knee pain.

Despite this, if you are more accustomed to the previous Glycerin models, the 17 may feel a bit different, and this may put some people off if you really were a big fan of the old feel and ride. Secondly, the colors and hues in the photos are definitely more appealing in the pictures and feel duller in real life.

Pros
+ Double Jacquard mesh and 3D Fit Print design encase your foot comfortably
+ DNA LOFT midsole helps ease impact and reduce tension placed on your knees
+ Outsole is great for a variety of surfaces, keeping you planted
+ Can be used for more than just running

Cons
Previous iterations feel a bit different, long-time users may not like the new feel and ride
Colors stick out more in the photos than they do in reality

2. ASICS Gel-Kayano 25

Second up on our list are the Gel-Kayano 25’s, a line of shoes by ASICS that have stood the test of time. When it comes to comfort, stability and control for your knees, it is hard to beat the Kayano 25’s, with their Impact Guidance System (IGS), that helps enhance your foot’s natural gait, DuoMax Support System, enhancing the support and control while reducing weight, and the Trusstic System that further enhances gait efficiency while giving midfoot support. Each of these systems greatly help reduce stress and impact while heightening support for your joints. On top of this, the Kayano 25’s feature Heel Clutching technology, an exoskeletal heel counter to support your heel and rearfoot, as well as rear and forefoot gel cushioning to attenuate shock during impact and helps make foot transitions smoother across the board. The upper is a jacquard mesh featuring the FlyteFoam Propel technology, keeping the shoe lightweight and breathable, so you’ll feel quick on your feet during a run. The durable rubber outsole features a unique tread across the underfoot to give you a solid grip wherever you step. Overall, a very supportive shoe that will put your knees at ease.

The Kayano 25’s are not completely perfect, though. Firstly, the padding on the ankle could be more prominent, as it is possible to blister or get ankle pain if the collar of the shoe isn’t plush enough. Secondly, the upper is prone to breaking down over time, usually with a hole in the upper right above the toe-box. These two issues are by no means major, but something to look out for if you have sensitive ankles or large toes.

Pros
+ IGS, DuoMax and Trusstic systems work wonders for knee and general joint pain
+ Heel counter and gel cushioning help keep you secure and less stressed
+ Solid outsole treading, good for variety of surfaces
+ Flytefoam keeps the shoe much lighter than it otherwise would be

Cons
Ankle padding could be more prominent
Upper breaks down, especially in toe box, over time and extensive use

3. Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19

Now we have the Adrenaline GTS 19’s, another piece of footwear by Brooks making it onto our list. The GTS 19’s focus is on supporting your feet and improving overall leg-health. It uses a well-ventilated and perforated fabric molded with 3D Fit Print technology to give you an airy, sock-like experience that doesn’t crack under pressure. How it helps your foot health, though, is through its GuideRails Holistic Support System, that puts to work the idea that foot health goes beyond arches, but also our ankles and knees. As a result, the GuideRails help provide a steady rhythm for our walking and running motion, subtly gliding use while simultaneously helping keep our subconscious excessive movements in check. By doing this, we relieve a ton of pressure off of our knees, definitely letting them get more rest than they’re used to. On top of this, Brooks added in to the GTS 19’s the BioMoGo and DNA LOFT cushioning systems that give you ample plush cushioning and firmness with every stride, so you don’t tire out as quickly or feel pain from an unstable underfoot experience. The GuideRails system definitely makes the GTS 19 a real winner when it comes to improving knee conditions, as well as a variety of other non-knee related issues. 

With that in mind, the GTS 19’s are not an infallible design. The heel area of the show may be too narrow for some, and despite being made to securely fasten the shoe to our foot, can be a bit of nuisance if you have pronounced heels. Secondly, put under constant and extreme use, the GTS 19’s can come apart over time and break down from the extensive stress you may put it through. If you highly value heel space or want a near-immortal shoe, then perhap the GTS 19’s aren’t for you, but we can see that the GuieRails more than make up for these flaws, offsetting them with amazing knee relief.

Pros
+ Well ventilated and durable upper that keeps your feet cool
+ Knees very much supported and eased by the GuideRails Holistic Support System 
+ Cushioning from the BioMoGo and DNA LOFT systems are ample and enjoyable
+ 3D Fit Print gives you a nice sock-like feel without feeling suffocated 

Cons
The heel area could do with a bit more space
Extensive use can see the GTS 19 break down over time, perhaps as early as 6 months

4. Hoka One One Bondi 6

Next are the effortlessly stylish Bondi 6 runners, by Hoka One One. The upper is made of a breathable and open engineered mesh with synthetic overlays that blend in well. There is also breathable textile lining so when you’re in them, you can rest assured there will be zero friction or risk of irritation or blistering. The insole is a padded custom design by Hoka, with a durable full-length EVA midsole that helps stabilize your foot well, while also being a great shock absorber, leaving less of the force to be dealt with by your arches or knees. Because these are so breathable, come in a variety of color styles, provide comfort and pain relief, we can definitely see them being used beyond running, but other occasions where wearing low-key runners are not a problem. The Bondi 6 is just that comfortable and provide such great relief on our joints because of its design. Best of all, these shoes can be used with custom insoles, so if you are a person who prefers third party orthotics to help your knees out just a bit more, the Bondi 6 is adaptable.

With that said, some might not prefer the boxier, or heavier look the Bondi 6 represents. The tongue is also a bit of a nuisance in the fact that it can uncomfortably rub up against your instep in certain positions, taking away from an otherwise smooth ride. Also, compared to previous iterations, the Bondi 6 feels a bit more stiff and narrower, which may be an issue for some. Despite this, they are very breathable and helpful for your knees.

Pros
+ Highly breathable and smooth experience
+ Can have custom orthotics put in place
+ Solid, secure and comfortable ride, taking stress away from the knees
+ Can be worn outside of exercise activities given its look

Cons
Might be a bit too bulky looking for some
Tongue can sometimes rub against your instep
Compared to past versions, it is a bit more narrow and stiff

5. New Balance 990v4

Now we have the New Balance 990v4’s, the first but not the last pair of New Balance shoes on our list, as New Balance consistently hits the mark with their models. The v4’s have a very durable leather and synthetic mesh upper, inherited from the v3, that is equally as effective at remaining firm and supportive. Since we are most concerned about knees, and the offsetting of unneeded stress, you’ll be pleased to know that medial underfoot support on the v4’s exist in the form of the ENCAP midsole, taking advantage of ACTEVA LITE foam, which is a flexible, durable and comfortable compound. It helps take a bit of the brunt of your arch and knees, absorbing a lot of the shock coming your way. The 990v4 also has 3M Reflectivity across its upper, a safety feature that makes you more visible in lower lights, ideal if you’re more of a night runner. The collar has dual-density foam padding around it to gently cradle your ankle, another important aspect of your leg health, and one you do not want to overly irritate. One of the best aspects of this particular model is the sizing options, having sizing from wide to X3-wide, so no matter how wide-set your foot might be, there will be a right fit for you. Finally, the outsole is identical to the ones found in modern 1080s, a blown-out rubber outsole, highly regarded for its durability and stability on surfaces.

Probably one of the biggest issues with the 990v4’s is the barrier to entry caused by the price point, which is fairly high. This can be an issue to some people who either cannot afford it or rather not shell out so much money. What we can say is that it is worth every cent, given its incredibly high grade materials and incredible longevity, you get what you pay for with this model. Secondly, the shoe definitely doesn’t have the sleek, sock-like look to it that a lot of other shoes have, and instead looks fairly bulky, and some may just not like that aesthetic at all. Finally, the 990v4, given its durable and bulky design, is a bit inflexible for certain sports that demand a certain degree of radical movement without hindrance from footwear. It isn’t ideal if you intend to use it for a sport that requires a more fluid shoe. 

Pros
+ Leather and mesh upper that is both breathable and very durable
+ ENCAP midsole made of ACTEVA foam is highly flexible and helpful in taking pressure off the knees
+ Comfortable ankle collar using dual-density foam
+ 3M Reflectivity in the upper, a must-have for running at night
+ Highly durable and grippy blown-out rubber outsole
+ Sizing covers wide-set individuals, with Wide to 3X-Wide options

Cons
Fairly high price, but still worth the cost
Bulky look that some might find unattractive
Durable, but not flexible enough for certain sports

6. Skechers Energy Afterburn

Now we have the Energy Afterburn by Skechers, constructed with a smooth leather upper that has high durability, with stitching accents and a lace-up to form a sporty athletic sneaker design. The Energy Afterburn has a padded collar and tongue area, and put comfort and ride as first priority with a highly cushioned insole, shock-absorbing midsole, all with a soft fabric lining to make the experience all the more smooth. The outsole has a flexibly and grippy traction ideal for almost any surface, too. The Energy Afterburn is great for knee pain as it provides you with great support for the lower leg via the soft custom insole and firm midsole, as well as reducing stress on uneven terrain with the solid traction you get from their custom outsole. By reducing the possibility for excess stress, you are reducing the chance for knee pain, and the Energy Afterburn excels in that. Finally, the Energy Afterburn comes in wider sizes, including X-Wide, a welcome inclusion for anyone with wide-set feet.

What they do not excel at is their visual appeal. The Energy Afterburn is a classic case of function over form, it is a very boxy looking shoe that is also fairly bulky. The Afterburn also only comes in variations of black and white, with the occasional small stripe of color across, meaning it really does not intend to stand out, but instead provide an experience for the wearer. This of course isn’t a big deal if all you care about is relieving yourself of knee pain, or reducing the chances of developing pain later on. If aesthetics do matter a lot to you though, the ENergy Afterburn is sorely lacking. 

Pros
+ Athletic and durable upper
+ Well padded, custom insole and midsole for great knee support 
+ High traction outsole for precarious terrain
+ Wide sizing options

Cons
Aesthetically mute, boxy looking
Bulky and not particularly appealing to the eye

7. Salomon Speedcross 4

Next up are the SpeedCross 4 by Salomon, these are a running shoe dedicated to trail running, as opposed to regular pavement running. Most noticeable about this shoe is the aggressive lug pattern treading on the outsole, the Speedcross lug pattern in this iteration is hungrier and more effective on soft terrain ranging from mud to snow, you’ll always feel firmly planted in these shoes. The compound itself is a Wet Traction Contagrip, great for wet or dry, soft terrains. The upper is a synthetic material with Sensifit technology and Quicklace lacing system, making the process of tightening them up or taking them off a very easy task. The upper has EndoFit technology as well, making it not only a highly comfortable and form-fitting shoe but also able to keep the most persistent of mud or dirt out. Internally there is a molded EVA injected midsole and an EVA contoured footbed and ortholite system for your comfort and stability. You’ll find with the Speedcross 4 your joints and hips will not be abnormally placed, and you’ll be pain-free on even tough trails. Overall, these are a very solid trail shoe that should meet your needs well if you plan to rough it in the outdoors instead of hitting the pavement.

With that said, the Speedcross 4 do have their share of issues. Firstly, the high  stack height of the lugs can be a bit of an issue on rugged terrain, as it’s meant for biting into softer terrain. Secondly, the breathability and ability to quick-dry are hampered by the anti-debris upper. Finally, if you’re used to the previous versions of this trail shoe, you’ll find this one to be a bit smaller or more narrow.

Pros
+ Comfortable and a master of wet terrain
+ Simple quick lace system for easy fitting
+ Solid comfort and support from EVA molded insole and midsole combination
+ Provides stability your joints need
+ Anti-debris mesh great for keeping dirt and mud out

Cons
High stack not meant for rugged, rocky terrain
Could be more breathable and quick-drying
Smaller and narrower than previous iterations

8. New Balance 1080v10

Our final shoe is another option from New Balance, the 1080v10’s, one of the newest models in the 1080 line. These shoes have an engineered Hypoknit mesh boot upper that hugs your foot for a secure and supportive grip that is also fairly breathable thanks to perforations across the mesh. Internally, the stuff that will be keeping you going during a run, there is an Ortholite cushion insert, giving you great comfort and moisture control, an Ultra Heel design hugging the back of your foot for a stable ride, and a FreshFoam midsole that gives you enhanced softness and energy feedback from every strike on the ground. These technologies all together make for a very stable and secure ride that your joints and lower legs will thank you for during your runs. Despite all the features, the 1080v10’s remain very lightweight and flexible, ideal if you intend to have long runs without having to feel the pain of your knees or lower legs being unsupported or sore. Lastly, the 1080v10’s come in a variety of colors and ranging widths ranging from narrow to X-Wide, something both sides of the spectrum will appreciate, as it allows for the best fit possible, which not a lot of over footwear brands offer. Overall, a very solid running shoe that helps mitigate knee pain and keep you running and active for longer.

With that said, the 1080v10’s can feel a bit tight or restrictive given its design, making you prone to getting blisters if you overdo it. This is not ideal in the least, and the only real solution is to get a half size up to give your foot just a touch more room to offset the design. Apart from this issue, you should find the v10’s to be a great ride that alleviates knee pain.

Pros
+ Highly comfortable, lightweight and flexible
+ Freshfoam midsole, ortholite insert, and heel cupping make for a stable experience
+ Wide variety of colors and width options
+ Firm and secure fit

Cons
May feel too constricting for some, best to get a half size up to remedy this issue

Conclusion

To conclude, we have provided you with some knowledge on the significance of knee pain on your overall health, some of the issues that may arise, tips for combatting the pain, and most importantly, shoes that properly support your knees. If you have knee pain, the best thing you can do is look for shoes that will mitigate the pain, by supporting your knees via healthy alignment and ample shock absorption. All of the shoes on this list will have that ability, and it is up to you to decide which one you like the most.