Updated: May 16
Are you overwhelmed with the number of brands, insoles, and shoe types when it comes time to choose new running footwear? Don’t worry; you are not alone.
There are a lot of choices on the market and a lot of conflicting information when it comes to proper shoes, even in the physical therapy community itself, you will find different physical therapist arguments for cushioned or stability shoes vs. the "zero-drop" and more minimalist types. Neither camp is wrong; there are definitely pros and cons that come with each type of shoe. New research studies that are being published have shown no significant difference in running injury risk associated with "zero drop" shoes in comparison to stability shoes. In other words, science has not yet found the "perfect" shoe that exceeds all others in terms of injury prevention and performance.
What does that mean, then? Well, it all comes down to your individual foot type! Let’s say, for example, that you have a very flat foot with very little arch and are having inside knee pain while running. A pure "barefoot" and flexible shoe may not be the right fit for you, as it will allow your foot to continue to have too much movement and over-pronate as you run, leading to more knee pain. The opposite goes for someone who has very high arches and stiff ankles like myself; a very thick, cushioned "stability" shoe will often lead to increased ankle restriction and not allow the foot to effectively pronate and adapt to the stresses of running when making contact with the ground.
Here are some tips and myths to help guide you on your journey to finding the "perfect" shoe:
1. Have your gait and foot type assessed by a movement professional or shoe fit expert. They are trained to understand the nuances of the foot and can help guide you toward shoes that will best fit your foot.
2. Make sure your shoes are not too tight! We often see patients with shoes that are far too small for their feet. If your toes feel cramped in the front of the toe box and you cannot effectively spread your toes apart, or if you often have blisters on the big or little toe, then your shoes may be too tight. Bonus Tip: Your feet will swell as you run, so it is important to have a roomier shoe to accommodate this swelling.
3. Myth: There is no such thing as a "break-in period". When you try shoes on at the store, they should never hurt. Shoes should feel comfortable and adaptable to your foot the moment you put them on, and they do not need 2-3 weeks of "wear-in time" to become usable.
4. If you are interested in transitioning to a more minimalist shoe, it may help not to switch directly from a heavy cushioned shoe to basically a barefoot shoe. For example, if you are in a shoe with an 8mm heel drop, it may be better to switch to a 4mm drop before making the jump to a 0 mm drop. This gives your feet the opportunity to adjust to the new stresses being placed on them.
5. The cushion and support of lighter running shoes usually don’t last more than 300–500 miles. If you see evident signs of tread wear and balding underneath the shoe, it’s time for new shoes (especially if you run a lot on pavement and concrete).
Hopefully you find these tips helpful in your journey toward having a smooth and pain-free summer of running!