Robin Brett Parnes, MS, MPH
The right pair of athletic shoes can be a simple, but vital tool to prevent injuries and keep you comfortable. Unfortunately, athletic shoe shopping can be confusing and sometimes even intimidating. Here are some fast facts you need to know before you head to the store.
Wearing the right athletic shoe may enhance your performance and provide the comfort and support you need to enjoy staying active. It is also important to help you:
On average, walking brings a force equal to several hundred tons on your feet each day and this increases significantly with sports. The proper fit and shoe for your activity help protect your feet from ailments that can develop over time. Common foot problems that may be associated with poor footwear include:
The wrong athletic shoes will also increase the risk of injury, which can sideline your activity plans for a long time.
Your feet are subject to more injury than any other part of your body. Some foot problems can be the result of repetitive stress. Improper or poorly fitting shoes can also be a contributing factor for:
The next step may be a little more work at first, but remember that it will be worth it in the end. When possible, shop at a store that caters to the sport in which you participate. They have the most knowledge and will make it worth your time.
Tracking down a pair of athletic shoes that is appropriate for you does not need to be an impossible task. Before you get to the store, determine if you need a new pair of shoes. Look for cracks in the sole of the shoe or worn down heels. These are clear signs it is time to toss what you are wearing. Other signs of excess wear include stiff feel in the shoe, or deformity of the upper shoe. If you have noticed pain or soreness in your feet, knees, or hips after a workout, it could also mean you are due for a new pair.
The next thing to think about may not be so obvious. What type of feet do you have? Everyone has different feet, but they tend to fall into 3 categories:
Getting the proper fit includes determining if you need a wider or larger shoe than you normally wear.
In general, you should replace athletic shoes every 350-450 miles. You also need to consider other factors, like your activity, body weight, and the type of surface you exercise on. Keep in mind that it is better to use mileage as a guide regardless of the condition of the tread. A good way to estimate how much mileage should be put on your shoes is to take 75,000 and divide it by your current weight. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can also download one of several apps that track physical activity. They will give you a good estimate of how many miles you put on your athletic shoes. It will also give you a clearer picture of the types of activities you participate in. This will be helpful when you are ready to start shopping. If you participate in activities that cannot be measured in miles, a good rule of thumb is to replace your athletic shoes every 4-6 months depending on your level of activity.
Unless you regularly participate in a specific sport—at least 2-3 times per week—a good cross-training shoe is usually sufficient. Cross trainers combine several features so you can participate in more than one sport. A good pair should have the flexibility in the forefoot that you need for running combined with the lateral control necessary for aerobics or tennis. They are fine for a general athletic shoe, but if you regularly participate in a sport, consider getting a sport-specific shoe. You are much better off playing football and baseball in cleats. And regular
definitely requires a specific type of shoe.
If you are a walker, should you buy walking shoes instead of running shoes? No need. Despite being called walking shoes, most are designed like cross-training shoes, offering lateral support while skimping on bottom padding and heel elevation. So if you walk a lot, you may actually be better off wearing a good pair of running shoes with their support for continuous forward motion and pounding.
Though shoe manufacturers hype the special features of each shoe they make, sports shoes can be divided into two general categories.
Do not be intimidated. Generally, stores have sections of athletic shoes. You can narrow down the choices right away by finding the section that is closest to your activity. Here are some different types of athletic shoes you may find:
As a general rule, you do not need a different type of shoe for each athletic activity you participate in.
Remember, fitting a shoe is a very individual process. Factors like gait, biomechanics, weight, and foot shape are highly unique. The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine recommends finding a reputable footwear retailer for proper fit and a sports medicine podiatrist for concerns about injury or footwear for specific foot types.
A good fit is critical for your enjoyment and performance. Keep in mind that it is wise to go shopping after a workout or at the end of the day, when your feet will be at their largest. Also, you will want to wear the same type of sock that you will wear when you are exercising.
Next, you will want to try on several different pairs of shoes. Shoes fit properly when: There is a firm grip of the shoe to your heel. You can wiggle all of your toes. The shoes do not feel too tight or too loose. Walk around for about 10 minutes to make sure it feels right.
Lastly, you should have both feet measured. Fit shoes to your larger foot. Lace your shoes beginning at the farthest eyelets; apply even pressure as you crisscross to the top of the shoe. Try on both shoes. Walk or run a few steps. The shoes should be comfortable as soon as you try them on. You should not need to break in athletic shoes to make them comfortable.
Now you are ready for the store. Keep in mind that you should not be swayed by the price tag. The most expensive is not always the best. Ultimately, getting the right shoe with the right fit is what you want.
American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine
American Podiatric Medical Association.
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Armand S, Tavcar Z, et al. Effects of unstable shoes on chronic low back pain in health professionals: A randomized controlled trial.
Joint Bone Spine. 2014;81(6):527-532.
Athletic shoes. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00318. Updated August 2012. Accessed December 11, 2014.
Athletic shoes. Dr. Stephen M. Pribut's Sport Pages website. Available at:
http://www.drpribut.com/sports/spshoe.html. Updated May 13, 2012. Accessed December 11, 2014.
Criteria for AAPSM athletic shoe recommendation list. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine website. Available at:
Accessed December 11, 2014.
Fitness begins with feet. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine website. Available at:
http://www.aapsm.org/footwear-begins-feet.html. Accessed December 11, 2014.
Plantar fasiitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 23, 2014. Accessed December 11, 2014.
Selecting a running shoe. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.aapsm.org/selectingshoes.html. Accessed December 11, 2014.
Selecting and effectively using running shoes. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/selecting-and-effectively-using-running-shoes.pdf. Accessed December 11, 2014.
Shoes: Finding the right fit. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00143. Updated August 2012. Accessed December 11, 2014.
Sesamoiditis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 16, 2014. Accessed December 11, 2014.
Stress fractures. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/stressfractures.pdf. Accessed December 11, 2014.
Tight shoes and foot problems. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00146. Updated August 2012. Accessed December 11, 2014.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Information Services. All rights reserved.