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How To Choose the Right Athletic Shoe

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Why It Is Important to Choose the Right Shoe | What You Need to Consider in Making the Decision

PD_7_ss07009The right pair of athletic shoes can be an important tool to prevent injuries and keep you comfortable. Unfortunately, athletic shoe shopping can be intimidating with a sea of shoe choices and everyone claiming to have the shoe for you.

Why It Is Important to Choose the Right Shoe

Wearing the right athletic shoe will no doubt 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. 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:

  • Blisters—fluid-filled bump on the skin
  • Bunions—swollen, sore bumps at the joint that connects your big toe to your foot
  • Calluses—abnormal thickening of the top layer of skin
  • Corns—small, thickened area of skin that forms on the toes
  • Hammertoes—a toe that tends to remain bent at the middle joint in a claw-like position

You 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. Injuries that can solely be the result of failing to wear the right shoes include:

  • Plantar fasciitis—the plantar fascia, a supportive, fibrous band of tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot, is injured, resulting in pain on the bottom of the foot
  • Heel spurs—calcium deposits that form where the plantar fascia connects to your heel bone
  • Stress fractures—tiny cracks in your bones that develop when the repetitive impact of jogging or running overcomes the ability of the foot bones to withstand this stress
  • Sesamoiditis—tenderness or inflammation at the sesamoid bones, accessory bones found beneath the large first metatarsal bone in the ball of the foot

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.

What You Need to Consider in Making the Decision

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 after a workout, it could also mean you are due for new shoes.

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:

  • Pronators have a low or flat arch and tend to wear down the inner edges of their shoes. If you are a pronator, you should look for shoes that offer support for your midfoot area, which limits overuse of the inside edge of your feet.
  • Supinators have a high arch and tend to wear down the outer edges of their shoes. Supinators require shoes with extra cushioning, particularly in the mid-arch area, to absorb shock and stabilize the heel.
  • People with neutral feet have an average arch and tend to wear down the heels of shoes evenly. They can wear just about any type of shoe.

There seems to be an endless choice of athletic shoes. Most are designed for a specific type of activity.

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:

  • Running—Runners and joggers should wear shoes that provide flexibility in the toe area and overall cushioning for impact (shock absorption). Such shoes should also have good heel control.
  • Barefoot Running—Talk to a trainer before making the transition to barefoot running shoes. It is not for every type of runner and the switch needs to be done gradually. Keep in mind that barefoot running shoes may not have extra support or cushion, but will give your feet protection.
  • Walking—Walkers should also look for shock absorption in the heel and especially under the ball of the foot. Walking shoes have more rigidity in the front than running shoes, so you can roll off your toes rather than bend through them.
  • Aerobics—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 where the most stress occurs.
  • Tennis—For tennis and other court sports, you will need shoes that provide stability on the inside and outside of the foot plus flexibility in the sole beneath the ball of the foot.
  • Basketball—Basketball players should choose a shoe with a wider base and a thick, stiff sole to give extra stability on the court. A high-top shoe provides support when landing from a jump.
  • Cross trainers—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.
  • Field sports, hiking, and specialty sports—Cleats, studs, or spikes are appropriate for field sports like soccer, football, and baseball. Special hiking shoes are available for trail blazing. Likewise, for sports such as skating, hockey, golf, and bicycling, you may want to wear shoes made specifically for these activities.

You found your perfect shoe, now for the perfect fit...

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.

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.

There are many things to consider when shopping for athletic shoes but after some initial research you should be able to narrow down the shoe choices for you. Then all you'll have to do is tie them on and head out the door.


American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine


American Podiatric Medical Association.



Canadian Orthopaedic Association



American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. Selecting a running shoe. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.aapsm.org/selectingshoes.html. December 6, 2012.

Athletic Shoes. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons OrthoInfo website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00318. Updated August 2012. Accessed December 6, 2012.

Plantar Fasiitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated November 2, 2012. Accessed December 6, 2012.

Selecting a Running Shoe. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.aapsm.org/selectingshoes.html. Accessed December 6, 2012.

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 6, 2012.

Sesamoiditis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated September 18, 2012. Accessed December 6, 2012.

Stress Fractures. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/stressfractures.pdf. Accessed December 6, 2012.

Tight Shoes and Foot Problems. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons OrthoInfo website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00146. Updated August 2012. Accessed December 6, 2012.

Last reviewed December 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

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.

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