By: Dale J. Buchberger, PT, DC, CSCS, DACBSP
A common question asked to healthcare providers almost daily is, “which sneakers should I buy?” Most patients are usually asking for a “brand” versus a “type” of shoe. Back in “the day” it was much easier to pick athletic shoes by brand because the numbers of models were limited. Today, almost every company makes 10+ models so, keeping track of the “good ones” is quite difficult. Today, there is what would be called subtypes of models. For instance running shoes, walking shoes and cross-training shoes are all subtypes. So the real question is, “what subtype should I be buying?”
Lets start with the first most common mistake made on a daily basis. Wearing running shoes to walk in. For the answer, we need to examine the shoes purpose. Running shoes are made to run in for approximately one-hour 5-days per week, not to walk or stand in 8-12 hours per day. Wearing running shoes to walk or stand in breaks them down prematurely and subjects your legs and back to the forces you were trying to avoid in the first place by purchasing the running shoes. So, what should you buy to walk or stand in? Typically the best shoes for walking or standing are either walking shoes or cross-training type shoes. These shoes are made to withstand sustained forces generated through walking or standing. They will last longer and provide the support you are looking for.
The next question is, “what if I wear orthotics?” Most athletic shoes today will accommodate a custom or over the counter orthotic. The main thing to keep in mind when buying shoes and wearing orthotics is to be sure that the manufacturers insole is removable. This is another common mistake that is seen clinically each day. Patients spend hundreds of dollars on custom orthotics and then place it on top of the existing insole. Most orthotics should sit on a flat platform. By placing it on an angled or uneven platform such as the existing insole makes the custom orthotic ineffective or even detrimental. If you have recently been prescribed custom orthotics you should also insert them in new shoes. Placing a new custom orthotic in an old pair of broken down shoes is a waste of money.
Now we pose the question, “what if you actually run?” Choosing running shoes can be a daunting task. There are numerous brands and varying subtypes of running shoes. First, buy running shoes that correspond to your foot type and weekly mileage. Next, only run in your running shoes. Don’t run in shoes that you walk around in. If possible rotate at least two pair of shoes. This will extend the life of the shoes and help prevent injuries. Keep in mind that the materials of the shoe break down long before the shoe looks bad. If you start feeling a strange ache or pain in your legs that you haven’t had before, keep in mind how old your running shoes are. Most running shoes are good for somewhere between 300-500 miles or 6-months. When you get your new shoes write the date of first use on the heel with a Sharpie® and if you alternate shoes number each pair so you don’t mix them up.
By now, you have an idea of the type of shoe you are looking for but you may not know where to buy them. There are many options today for the purchase of athletic and walking footwear. If you shop at large chain retail sporting goods stores your choices will be limited and you cannot be sure of the knowledge background of the sales person giving you the advice. While the advice may sound good it may not be accurate. Most sales people in sporting goods stores rarely have healthcare or biomechanical degrees. It is not a bad idea to ask the person selling you the shoes for their qualifications to provide athletic footwear advice. If you shop online the most comprehensive website for fitness and walking footwear is www.roadrunnersports.com. Shoes are broken down by gender, activity, foot type and cost. In a pinch they have a helpline with a very knowledgeable staff. Their return policy is also consumer friendly.
Whether your foot is low arched or high arched, if you walk, run or stand, keep in mind that shoes are only half of the equation for foot, ankle, knee, hip or back pain. Even the best shoes and orthotics in the world cannot replace strong hips. When you feel as though you cannot get a straight answer on footwear ask your healthcare provider. Healthcare providers that treat and manage sports injuries of the feet, knees, hips and back should be able to give you straight forward advice on the purchase of adequate athletic and walking footwear.