What’s That on Your Feet?!

It’s summer and many of us are fairly active outside or indoors; walking, jumping, biking, boating, playing sports, jogging, and exercising. Chances are we’re wearing sneakers or athletic shoes while we play or work, those leather, cloth, or mesh multi-colored foot coverings universally popular with children and adults alike. In the United States alone, the market for sneakers and athletic shoes comprises a multibillion-dollar industry that capitalizes on smart marketing, style, star power, peer pressure, practicality, and comfort.  We all wear them, yet how much do we actually know about what’s on our feet, like if they’re suitable for the activities we’re using them for and if they’re good for us?

At one time in the not-too-distant past, everyone wore sneakers when active. Now there are hundreds of athletic shoes to choose from, designed for practically every type of activity, though typically for running, training, and walking.

Court sports include shoes for tennis, basketball, and volleyball. Court sports require the body to move forwards, backwards, and side-to-side. As a result, most athletic shoes used for court sports are subjected to heavy abuse. The key to finding a good court shoe is its sole. Field sports include shoes for soccer, football, and baseball. These shoes often are cleated, studded, or spiked. The spike and stud formations vary from sport to sport, but generally there are replaceable or detachable cleats, spikes, or studs affixed onto nylon soles.

When it comes to track and field, athletic shoe companies produce many models for various foot types. One brand does not meet the needs of everyone, and the latest innovation or most expensive shoe may not be your best choice. However, even the best-designed shoes in the world will not do the 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.

Here’s some guidance for choosing the athletic shoe that’s best for you:

Running Shoes:  A good running shoe should have ample cushioning to absorb shock, though there are advocates for minimalist running shoes with almost no cushioning. If you choose a cushioned shoe, look for overall shock absorption for the foot and good heel control. This may help prevent shin splints, tendinitis, heel pain, stress fractures, and other overuse syndromes.

Joggers should wear a shoe with more cushioning for impact. Running shoes are designed to provide maximum overall shock absorption for the foot. Such a shoe should also have good heel control. Together, these attributes help prevent shin splints, tendinitis, heel pain, stress fractures, and other overuse syndromes.

Walking Shoes:  If walking is a major athletic activity for you, wear a lightweight shoe. Look for extra shock absorption in the heel of the shoe,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.

Aerobic 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.

Tennis Shoes: 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.

Basketball Shoes:  For basketball, choose a shoe with a thick, stiff sole. This gives extra stability when running on the court. A high-top shoe may provide added support but won’t necessarily decrease the risk of ankle sprain or injury.

Cross Trainers:  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.

We don’t necessarily need a different pair of shoes for every sport in which we participate. Generally, 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. 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.

If the shoe fits, buy it!

Here are some useful guidelines for buying new athletic shoes:

  • If possible, purchase athletic shoes from a specialty store. The staff will provide valuable input on the type of shoe needed for your sport as well as help with proper fitting. This may cost a little more, but is worthwhile, particularly for shoes that are used often.
  • Don’t go just by size. Have your feet measured, and choose shoes that fit the larger foot first.
  • Try on athletic shoes after a workout or run and at the end of the day. Your feet will be at their largest.
  • Wear the same type of sock that you will wear for that sport.
  • When the shoe is on your foot, you should be able to freely wiggle all of your toes.
  • The shoes should be comfortable as soon as you try them on. There is no break-in period.
  • Walk or run a few steps in your shoes. They should be comfortable.
  • Always re-lace the shoes you are trying on. You should begin at the farthest eyelets and apply even pressure as you create a crisscross lacing pattern to the top of the shoe.
  • There should be a firm grip of the shoe to your heel. Your heel should not slip as you walk or run.
  • If you participate in a sport three or more times a week, you need a sport-specific shoe. 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.
  • 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.

Finally, if your feet or back hurt, you should get them checked out by a physician. For the best advice, see an orthopedic surgeon, a doctor specializing in diseases of the bones and joints. The orthopedic 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.

Proper-fitting sports shoes can enhance performance and prevent injuries. But whatever you choose to wear on your feet, get out there, have fun, and be healthy!


 

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!