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Choosing the right shoe for you

What's the most important piece of equipment a runner or walker owns? The shoes on his/her feet! Wearing the correct shoe can actually help to prevent many overuse or impact-related injuries. When determining which shoe is right for you, the specific sport or activity, history of injury, and foot type are all important factors that need to be considered.

Determining your "foot type"

Individuals with low arches/flat feet or arches that drop too much when walking are called pronators, those with high arches are supinators. Pronators should look for a shoe with good heel control, while supinators need a shoe with good shock absorption.

In addition, if you participate in sports at least 3 times per week, you need a shoe specific to the sport to protect you from injury (i.e., runners need a running shoe, basketball players need a basketball-type shoe, walkers can either use a walking or running shoe).

To better equip your feet, let's look at the "anatomy" of a shoe:

The mid-sole is the area of the shoe located between the bottom (i.e., the portion of the shoe that makes contact with the ground) and insole. The mid-sole is designed to provide shock absorption during activity. Pronators will benefit from a firm, stable, mid-sole with increased density on the medial (inner) side of the shoe. Supinators should choose a shoe with a soft, resilient mid-sole. In general, a darker color on the sole is made of denser material.

Last (shape)
Best seen by viewing the shoe from its bottom, the last refers to the shape of the shoe. The three types available are curved, semi-curved, or straight. Pronators typically perform best with straight lasts, which offer better support. In turn, supinators should choose a semi-curved or curved last for more shock absorption.

Inner last (construction)
Directly under the insole on the inside of the shoe is the inner last. The 3 options are board, combination or slip lasting. Board lasting is a flat, cardboard-like material under the insole. This type of last is effective for a pronator because of its stiffness and ability to provide greater support. Seams of fabric under the insole characterize slip lasting. It is preferred for a supinator because of its flexibility. Combination lasting occurs when the heel area of the shoe is constructed from board last and the ball of the foot is slip last.

Heel counter
This is the stiff material surrounding the heel portion of the shoe. A firm heel counter is important in any walking or running shoe to prevent excessive heel motion, especially in pronators. The heel counter should be firm and have a snug, glove-like fit. To test stability, try squishing the heel counter in your hand. It should be firm enough to resist your pressure.

Pronators should shop for motion control – their primary concern is stability.

  • Straight last
  • Board last or combination last
  • Firm mid-sole
  • Solid, sturdy heel counter

Supinators should shop for shock absorption – primary concern is cushioning.

  • Curved or semi-curved last
  • Slip last
  • Soft mid-sole
  • Solid, sturdy heel counter

Shoes will break down with or without use, even while quietly sitting on a shelf! As shoes break down, they will no longer support your feet properly. To prevent injury, it's important to retire your shoes using the following guidelines:

  • Running shoes: Retire after 350 – 500 miles or every 8 months
  • Walking shoes: Retire after 500 – 700 miles or every 8 months
  • Sport-specific shoes: If worn 5 or more times per week, replace your shoes ever 2 to 3 months. If worn 2 times per week, replace your shoes every 6 months.

Remember, by choosing and wearing the correct shoe, you can prevent many overuse or common stress-related injuries. In some cases, the amount of pronation or supination so affects the foot's function that orthotics or custom-made shoe inserts may be required to control faulty foot mechanics.

For questions on shoe selection, custom foot orthotics, or to schedule a Free Injury Evaluation, call the Aurora Sports Medicine Hotline™ at 414-219-7776 or 800-219-7776.