Running shoes are often seen as the key component to any runner’s injury or their performance on race day, and while we often give running shoes a little bit too much credit in their role in our performance as a runner, they are important because we don’t have any other equipment. When it comes to running, the only thing that we really need to have is a pair of shoes.
Now, when we go to buy shoes or purchase shoes online, we want to make sure that we’re choosing the right shoe for us. And many runners have been told that this is going to be based off of their specific anatomy. Basically, if you have a high arch or a low arch or certain characteristics of your feet, that’s going to determine the best shoe for you. And while maybe there are times when this is okay, there are a lot more big picture things that we can be focusing on to help runners figure out what’s the best shoe for them, so you can systematically go through a checklist the next time you get a pair of shoes to answer the question, is this the right shoe for me?
I’d mentioned how we used to think that prescribing shoes based off of someone’s foot type was the biggest key to figuring out if that shoe was the right shoe for that individual. And we’ve really gone away from that a bit, and we’ve learned that the thing that’s the most important is, is this a comfortable shoe? So when you get a new pair of shoes, putting them on and running in them is the biggest test for us. And if you can say, “Yeah, this feels pretty comfortable,” then that’s probably a good shoe for you. It should never feel like you’ve got to work yourself into a shoe or you have to choose a specific shoe based off of somebody’s recommendation or what somebody else is wearing. If it’s comfortable when you’re running in it, it’s probably a good shoe for you.
So you’ve got your new pair of shoes. You’re bringing the box home, hopefully from some local running store where you’ve made the purchase, and you take them out of the box. What’s the first thing that you should do? Well, the first thing that you should do is to just inspect the shoe overall. What’s the quality of the stitching? Are there places where it looks like it might be a little bit off from your left shoe to your right shoe? We want to inspect the shoe and make sure that there weren’t any defects that happened during the manufacturing process. We’re looking at how well the elastic is laced into the cushioning components of the shoe, and just to make sure that there aren’t any defects in that specific model.
Once we’ve made that inspection, we want to take the sock liner out, so that little liner that sits on the inside of the shoe, I want you to take that out. Set it on the ground, and then I want you to stand on that on one foot. And what you’re looking for is to see if the shape of the shoe, so the actual architecture, matches the anatomy of your individual foot. I’m not as concerned with your arch height, which is what we often focus on. I’m more concerned with, do we have enough space for the shape of your foot to fit in the shape of the shoe? So you should trace all the way around that liner and make sure that there are not any points where you are having a lot of overhang. This is especially important for people that have had a history of toe pain or bunions, anything that’s happening at the level of the toes, because we want to make sure that we have enough room that they’re not getting squished and pinched together.
We also want to remember that when we run, our feet swell, and our foot has to splay as our foot hits the ground every time when we run, so we want to make sure that there’s even just a little bit of wiggle room.
The next thing we want to look at is the drop of the shoe. The drop of the shoe is the difference between the heel and the forefoot portion of the shoe, and this is going to change based on the model of the shoe that we’re running in. So some shoes are going to have a higher drop and some a lower drop. We tend to see lower drop shoes when we look at racing flats or shoes that people tend to use for track workouts. We also see this in spikes. So if we’re going to be in a shoe like that, we’re going to have a little bit more load go through our forefoot and our calf. So if someone is coming off a metatarsalgia or a calf strain, having them in a really, really low drop shoe might not be the best bet right off the bat. So we have to remember that when we go to pick the shoe for the person.
On the other side of the spectrum, if we’re in a very high drop shoe, say something that’s a 10- or a 12-millimeter drop, we’re going to be putting more load onto our knee and our hip, and this is just because of the shoe that we’re wearing. So if someone is dealing with knee pain or hip pain, getting them in a shoe that’s a little bit lower drop can sometimes provide us enough of a decrease in load to allow them to continue to train.
Our next test is going to examine the break of the shoe. We’re going to take that shoe and we are going to smash it in half, and what we’re looking for is where the break occurs on that shoe, and we’re going to compare that to how the foot naturally breaks. So if I have a shoe that breaks at the level of the toes, where our foot is naturally going to break, that is exactly what we want. If we have a shoe that breaks a lot farther back, it’s a mismatch between the natural break of the foot and the natural break of the shoe, and we want those to go together, just like we want to match the shape of the shoe with the shape of our feet. We want to make sure that that break is happening symmetrically between both shoes, so there shouldn’t be a difference, left versus right, and we want to make sure that that break lines up with the break of that person’s foot.
We also want to check out the stiffness of the shoe. Is there a lot of stiffness when we go to bend the toes back? Is there a lot of torsional stiffness if we go to twist that shoe from left to right? And we’re going to match this with whatever that runner is like. Do they like a shoe that has a little bit more stiffness to it? Do they like a shoe that’s more meshy and has a little bit more give to it? Some of this is going to be personal preference. It can also be the injuries that you’re coming off of, so if someone has a lot of pain in their feet, giving them a little bit of extra stiffness in the shoe as they transition back to running can be helpful because it takes up some of the slack that the foot is going to have to deal with, to begin with, so it’s almost like it’s giving it a little bit of help. So we’re always matching this stuff up based on that person’s unique situation.
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