MONDAY, May 26 (HealthDay News) -- Using a cane may help reduce the risk of knee osteoarthritis (OA) progression, according to a study by researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
The study included 16 men and 24 women, mean age 65, with knee OA, an incurable joint disease that's the leading cause of disability in elderly people. All the participants walked in their bare feet and then in their own shoes. Then, 20 of the participants walked wearing their own shoes and using a cane in the hand opposite to the knee with OA.
During these tests, the participants walked over sensors that recorded ground impact. The researchers also gathered data on limb movement.
Overall, the peak knee adduction moment -- an indication of weight placement while walking -- was 7.4 percent higher when wearing shoes than when walking barefoot. Use of a cane resulted in a 10 percent average decrease in the knee adduction moment. Some of the participants had a more than 20 percent decrease when using a cane.
While the participants tended to walk more slowly while using the cane, they had greater stride length and improved pelvis control, which alleviates the damaging load on the knee with OA.
The study was published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.
While canes are already widely recommended for patients with knee OA, this study confirms their therapeutic value, at least in the short-term, the researchers said.
"Further studies are required to establish whether knee loading remains lower with ongoing use of a cane and whether the reductions in loading translate to a reduced risk of disease progression," study author Dr. Rana S. Hinman said in a prepared statement.
It's not clear why wearing shoes increased the peak knee adduction moment, but heel height, sole thickness, and arch supports may all be factors.
"Because it is potentially dangerous as well as impractical to advise patients with knee OA to walk about in bare feet, further research is needed to determine which types of shoes least increase the knee adduction moment or, ideally, reduce it," Hinman said.
The Arthritis Foundation has more about osteoarthritis.