Know Your Sport Shoes
If you play a sport three or more times per week, a sport-specific shoe may be necessary. Remember that after 300 to 500 miles of running or 300 hours of aerobic activity, the cushioning material in a shoe is usually worn down and it's time to toss the shoes.
Choices, choices . . .
The fitness boom of the last 25 years has led to an explosion in the manufacture of sports shoes. The sports shoe consumer of the 1960s only had to make one choice: the all-purpose sneaker. Today's consumer must choose from among hundreds of brands and styles of athletic shoes designed for every sport and activity.
You may feel overwhelmed by the choices available to you, particularly since the athletic footwear industry introduces more technologically sophisticated shoes with new designs and features every year. Slick ads and television commercials tout these features, but offer little in the way of advice in selecting the shoes that match your feet. One brand does not meet the needs of everyone, and the latest innovation or most expensive shoe with all the features may not be your best choice.
The information below will help you determine the right shoe for you, the one that will help you enjoy sports and lessen your chance of injury. The information includes what you should look for in sport-specific shoes, features in construction that provide comfort and prevent injuries, how to obtain a proper shoefit, and shoe adjustments that can be made to treat foot problems.
Joggers should wear a shoe with more cushioning impact. Running shoes are designed to provide maximum overall shock absorption for the foot. Such a shoe should also have good heel control. Although not a cure-all, these qualities in a running/sports shoe help prevent shin splints, tendinitis, heel pain, stress fractures and other overuse syndromes.
If walking is your sport or your doctor's recommendation for cardiovascular conditioning, wear a lightweight shoe. Look for extra shock absorption in the heel of the shoe and especially under the ball of the foot (the metatarsal area). This will help reduce heel pain (plantar fasciitis and pump bumps) as well as burning and tenderness in the ball of the foot (metatarsalgia). A shoe with a slightly rounded sole or rocker bottom also helps to smoothly shift weight from the heel to the toes while decreasing the forces across the foot. Walking shoes have more rigidity in the front so you can roll off your toes rather than bend through them as you do with running shoes.
Shoes for aerobic conditioning should be lightweight to prevent foot fatigue and have extra shock absorption in the sole beneath the ball of the foot (metatarsal area), where the most stress occurs. If possible, work out on a carpet.
Tennis players need a shoe that supports the foot during quick side-to-side movements or shifts in weight. A shoe that provides stability on the inside and outside of the foot is an important choice. Flexibility in the sole beneath the ball of the foot allows repeated, quick forward movements for a fast reaction at the net. You need slightly less shock absorption in the shoe if you're playing tennis or other racquet sports. On soft courts, wear a softer soled shoe that allows better traction. On hard courts, you want a sole with greater tread.
If basketball is your sport, choose a shoe with a thick, stiff sole. This gives extra stability when running on the court. A high-top shoe provides support when landing from a jump and may help prevent ankle sprains.
Cross-training shoes, or cross trainers, combine several of the above features so that you can participate in more than one sport. A good cross trainer should have the flexibility in the forefoot you need for running combined with the lateral control necessary for aerobics or tennis.
You do not necessarily need a different pair of shoes for every sport in which you participate. Generally, you should wear sport-specific shoes for sports you play more than three times a week. If you have worked out for some time injury-free, then stick with the particular shoe you have been wearing. There is really no reason to change.
For special problems, you may need a special shoe. A well-cushioned shoe may not be a good shoe for someone who overpronates. If your ankles turn easily, you may need to wear a shoe with a wide heel. If you have trouble with shin splints, you may need a shoe with better shock absorption.
Sport shoes vary in materials and design as well as how they are made. Look inside the shoe before you decide to buy. This will help you select a shoe that fits both your foot and your sport.
Special features in construction give comfort to the wearer as well as help prevent injury:
A slip-lasted shoe is made by sewing together the upper like a moccasin and then gluing it to the sole. This lasting method makes for a lightweight and flexible shoe with no torsional rigidity.
A board-lasted shoe has the "upper" leather or canvas sewn to a cardboard-like material. A person with flat feet (pes planus) feels more support and finds improved control in this type of shoe.
A combination-lasted shoe combines advantages of both other shoes. It is slip-lasted in the front and board-lasted in the back. These shoes give good heel control but remain flexible in the front under the ball of the foot. They are good for a wide variety of foot types.
The best designed shoes in the world will not do their job if they do not fit properly. You can avoid foot problems by finding a shoe store that employs a pedorthist or professional shoe fitter who knows about the different shapes and styles of shoes. Or you can become an informed consumer by following these guidelines:
Don't go just by size. Have your feet measured.
Visit the shoe store at the end of a workout when your feet are largest.
Wear the socks you normally wear when working out.
Fit the shoe to the largest foot.
Make sure the shoe provides at least one thumb's breadth of space from the longest toe to the end of the toe box.
If you have bunions or hammertoes, find a shoe with a wide toe box. You should be able to fully extend your toes when you're standing, and shoes should be comfortable from the moment you put them on. They will not stretch out.
Women who have big or wide feet should consider buying men's or boys' shoes, which are cut wider for the same length.
When Foot Problems Develop
If you begin to develop foot or ankle problems, simple adjustments in the shoes sometimes can relieve the symptoms. Many of these simple devices are available without prescription.
- A heel cup provides an effective way to alleviate pain beneath the heel (plantar fasciitis). Made of plastic or rubber, the heel cup is designed to give support around the heel while providing relief of pressure beneath the tender spot.
- An arch support (orthosis) can help treat pain in the arch of the foot. Made of many types of materials, arch supports can be placed in a shoe after removing the insole that comes with the shoe.
- A metatarsal pad can help relieve pain beneath the ball of the great toe (sesamoiditis) or beneath the ball of the other toes (metatarsalgia). Made of a felt material or firm rubber, the pad has adhesive on its flat side. Fixed to the insole behind the tender area, the pad shares pressure normally placed on the ball of the foot. This relieves pressure beneath the tender spot.
Custom Arch Supports
Many problems in the feet respond to stretching and conditioning, choosing a different shoe, and simple over-the-counter shoe modifications. However, long-term (chronic) and complicated problems of the feet may require specially designed inserts (orthoses) made of materials that concentrate relief on a particular area while supporting other areas. Severe flat foot, high arches, shin splints, Achilles tendinitis and turf toe are but a few of these conditions.
To obtain the best relief for such problems, see an orthopaedic surgeon, a doctor specializing in diseases of the bones and joints. The orthopaedic surgeon is trained to treat problems of the foot and ankle. Pedorthists and orthotists are trained to make and modify arch supports (orthoses) and fulfill the surgeon's prescription. Working with these professionals will ensure you get the right shoe for the best possible treatment.
This material was codeveloped with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) offers information on this site as an educational service. The content of FootCareMD, including text, images and graphics, is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnoses or treatments. If you need medical advice, use the "Find an Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Surgeon" tool at the top of this page or contact your primary doctor.