FINDING THE RIGHT SHOE FOR YOU
There are now a plethora of criteria from which to consider when shopping for your shoes. Different shoes are designed for different people performing different activities. It's helpful to have a good idea of what you're expecting from the shoe and what type of activities you will be performing. Some shoe stores have very knowledgeable staff who can help you choose the most appropriate shoe based on your expectations and the shape of your foot. Shoes are sometimes utilized as a fashion statement or clothing accessory and this can be important as well. Please keep in mind that chronic use of tight fitting or high-heeled shoes can have a negative impact on your foot and ankle health. Similar to a fancy dinner dessert, it's ok to indulge occasionally, but you will suffer consequences if you make it a habit. On the days when it is necessary to wear fashionable footwear, then consider finding something with a rounded toe box and a lower heel. Shoes with a very high heel and a narrow or pointed toe box constrict the foot and increase the risk of pain and deformity.
Perhaps, one of the most appropriate shoes for daily activity is a cushioned athletic shoe. Things to look for include a cushioned sole to absorb the impact of the ground when you are walking. A wide toe box that allows room for your toes to move without being compressed together is very important. A low heel will help keep the foot in a normal plantigrade position and decrease uncomfortable pressure and deforming forces on the ball of your foot. Comfort is one of the most important factors when considering a shoe. An athletic shoe is designed to cradle the foot, protect it from injury, and to optimize performance. Most shoes are made up of an outsole, a midsole, and an upper. The outsole, a durable slab of thick rubber, is the bottom of the shoe that contacts the ground and provides traction throughout the gait cycle. The midsole, which rests atop the outsole, provides cushioning, support, and stability. The upper is the portion that covers the top and sides of the foot and generally is made of mesh, synthetic fabric, or leather. A shoe should fit snugly, but should not be so tight that your toes press against the front of the shoe or the upper.
Athletes and runners often ask how often they should replace their shoes. There are many factors that go into determining the life of a running shoe such as the surface you run on, your size and weight, running speed, biomechanics, and weather conditions. Adding to the confusion, variable materials and construction quality of shoe models are so different that mileage expectations vary as well. Some professional runners replace their shoes every 200 miles, which can be very expensive. Most experts agree that runners should expect to get about 500 miles out of a pair of shoes.
Signs of wear can first be visualized on the outsole (the black material on the bottom of the shoe), but the midsole (the light colored cushioning element) usually fatigues first. The midsole is the most important part of a running shoe, and this is where most of the cushioning is found. Generally, midsoles are made out of lightweight foam, which gets compressed with each step. Although the foam recoils after a run, continual daily use permanently compresses the cushioning. This is called compression set. A running shoe with 200 miles or more on it will feel different than a brand new shoe because of compression set. Compression set creates visible lines or wrinkles in the midsole that can be observed on the side of the shoe. Some wear is normal, but as the midsole gets more compressed, the number of compression lines increase and come closer together. When this occurs, the midsole has lost most of its ability to cushion. To determine if the midsole is worn out, flip the shoe over and press a thumb on the outsole and deep toward the midsole. It should be relatively easy to see the midsole compress into the compression lines. As the midsole breaks down with wear, the midsole will compress less into these compression lines. When the midsole shows distinctive compression lines, it becomes brittle, which is indicative that the midsole is nonfunctional. If a normal run results in aches or soreness that ordinarily wouldn’t be present, or if the shoe feels much firmer than it did a month ago, that’s a sure sign it’s losing its ability to cushion. Time to buy another pair.
Experienced runners usually have an approximate idea of the number of runs or miles they get out of their shoes and are keenly aware of any change in cushioning. Note in your training log when you first begin wearing a shoe, or write on the tongue or the midsole the date you begin wearing the shoe. By calculating the number of miles you run per week, you will have a good idea of when you reach the 400-500 mile threshold. It makes much more sense to a buy a new pair of shoes a bit too early than a little too late. Trying to squeeze another 100 miles out of a worn-out shoe is an invitation for injury.
Let’s face it, running shoes are expensive and a good pair costs anywhere from $100-$200. Most runners need at least two pairs to get through a year, but high-mileage runners may need as many more pairs. There are a few things you can do to extend the life of your running shoes. Remove the insoles and allow the shoes to dry out after every run. Pick up your feet and land squarely on the heel or midfoot so you don’t scuff or scrape the ground. Wear running shoes only for running or walking. The quickest way to wear out your running shoes is to wear them for pivoting sports such as basketball, tennis, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, cross-training, or soccer. If you run more than once a day or do a second workout, use a second pair of shoes while you allow the midsole cushioning in the first pair to recoil.
Some patients have pathologic conditions that may require a more specialized shoe, a customized shoe, or shoe modifications by a pedorthist. When purchasing a shoe find knowledgeable staff you can trust and tell them about conditions that you may have such as diabetes or a bunion to help determine the best footwear choice for you. If your condition requires a shoe that isn't ready made on the shelf, then there are multiple orthotic and prosthetic businesses that will be happy to help with custom designs.