The 'wobble-board' trainers that beat the pain of knee arthritis
Steve Hall, wearing his shoes, while carrying his son Matthew
They may look more like something a trendy teenager would wear, but a pair of custom-made, high-top trainers can offer patients relief from the crippling pain of knee arthritis.
There is no cure for the condition which accounts for one million GP appointments each year. Treatment traditionally involves painkillers, a knee replacement or other surgery. About 80,000 of these operations are carried out in the UK each year.
Osteoarthritis is damage to cartilage, the smooth surface that lines bones and allows joints to move easily. Why it happens is not fully understood but genetic predisposition and natural wear and tear are thought to play a role. As the disease progresses, bony growths develop around the edge of the joints, causing pain and inflammation.
The trainers, known as AposTherapy, were
developed in Israel in 2004 and results of a pilot trial on 1,300
British patients were released last year. During the trial, 67 per cent
were able to reduce their need for painkillers, with 40 per cent no
longer needing any at all.
Physiotherapist Ed Butler explains: ‘The
trainers correct the way you walk, which takes pressure off the knee,
alleviating pain. You are engaging your core muscles and realigning the
body.’ As osteoarthritis progresses, the knee joint becomes more
unstable, and the muscles around it begin to be affected to compensate.
‘Sufferers often limp due to the hamstring muscles having tensed. As the condition takes hold, and before pain becomes too acute, the brain reacts and forces muscles to work in the wrong way,’ says Mr Butler.
Attached to the soles of the trainers – one at the front and one at the heel – are circular and convex Pertupods made of a rubber compound, which can be either soft or hard. ‘If someone feels a lot of pain when they put their feet down, we’d give them a softer one to lessen the impact,’ says Mr Butler.
‘For the more mobile, the harder ones make them more aware of how they are walking. The soles are like a wobble-board, forcing the wearer to balance and correct their posture.’
The Pertupods can be altered according to the patient’s therapeutic needs, determined by a physiotherapy assessment. The shoes are worn for everyday activities and no further exercises are needed.
‘People may wear them for a few hours a day initially,’ says Mr Butler. ‘As their gait is corrected, we encourage them to rely on them less.’
Three months after wearing the trainers he was nearly pain-free
One satisfied patient is Steve Hall, 49, a retired detective chief inspector who lives in Surrey with his wife Sarah, 44, a childminder, and their eight-year-old son Matthew.
‘I had a motorcycle accident at the age of 20 and broke my left tibia and fibula. In 2003 my knee started to swell up,’ he says.
Tests revealed he was suffering from osteoarthritis. ‘I was told I had the knee of a 70-year-old,’ he adds.
In 2004, Mr Hall underwent a tibial osteotomy, a surgical procedure that realigns the leg. ‘It improved things,’ he says. ‘But I was still in pain and I would have needed a knee replacement at some point.’
Three years ago he came across AposTherapy and was attracted to it because it was drug-free. Three months later, after wearing the trainers daily, he was almost pain-free.
‘I would put them on in the morning, go to work and wear them all day,’ he says. The result is that he now doesn’t need a knee replacement.
Independent clinical experts are optimistic about the treatment.
‘I have referred patients,’ says Dr Hasan Tahir, consultant physician in acute medicine and rheumatology at Whipps Cross University Hospital in London.
‘Addressing posture is an important part of the management of osteoarthritis.
‘But this is only part of the pro–cess. Losing weight is the first step and painkillers or steroid injections may still be needed.’
Three years later, Steve wears the trainers for a couple of hours a day for four or five days a week.
‘The best thing is that I can now referee my son’s football team,’ he says.
lFrom 2,100, apostherapy.co.uk. Treatment free for Bupa patients.