Written by Dr. Meagan Robichaud, PT, DPT
Whether you are planning to run the Boston marathon or you classify yourself as more of a casual neighborhood runner, the thought about the best shoe for you has probably crossed your mind more than once. Did you know that a physical therapist is equipped to assess your feet and help you determine the best type of shoe for your type of running? Deciding on a running shoe can depend on many factors including the shape of your foot and what happens when it hits the ground, the type of running you are doing, and your distance goals.
Foot Mechanics: Let’s first talk about pronation versus supination!
Overpronation: Too much rolling in of the inside of the foot following heel strike in running causing collapse of the arches
Underpronation (also commonly called supination): Not enough rolling to the inside of the foot following heel strike causing most of the shock to remain on the outside of the foot through the whole step.
You can test how much you pronate by looking at the sole of your current running shoes. If most of the wear and tear is located on the outside of the sole, you likely underpronate. If most of the wear and tear is located on the inside of the sole, you likely overpronate. And finally, if the wear and tear is even throughout the sole of the shoe, you likely have a normal stride.
Foot Shape: Let’s talk about those arches in our feet!
Test: Dip your feet in a bucket of water and then stand on a paper bag or colored piece of paper. Gently step off after a few seconds to see the footprint you left.
Your footprint with normal arches: There’s a distinct curve along the inside of your foot with a band a little less than half the width of your foot connecting the heel and toe.
Your footprint with high arches: There’s a very sharp curve along the inside of your foot and your imprint shows a very thin band between your heel and toe. People with high arches typically don’t pronate enough.
Your footprint with low arches: There’s not much of a curve along the inside of your foot and your imprint shows almost the entire foot. People with low arches are more likely to overpronate (roll too far inward), which can lead to overuse injuries.
Picking a Shoe Type Based on Foot Shape and Mechanics
When talking about types of shoes we typically see at the store, you may see terms like “stability shoe”, “motion-control shoe”, or “cushioning shoe”. Below, refer to the chart to determine what term to look for in a shoe based off the results of your pronation and arch test:
Normal Arch --> Stability shoe Normal Stride --> Stability shoe
High Arch --> Cushioning shoe Overpronator --> Motion-Control shoe
Low Arch --> Motion-Control shoe Underpronator --> Cushioning shoe
Type of Running
Sneakers are also distinguished by the type of running they qualify for, typically road versus trail running. If you will be running on uneven dirt and trail paths, make sure to make a trail running shoe a priority on your checklist as these shoes will have a stiffer midsole in order to provide more support and stability over the uneven surfaces.
Finally…The Shoe FIT
Of everything we have talked about so far…the MOST important aspect of picking a running shoe is the fit. You can do everything else right and still injure yourself if the fit isn’t perfect. Here’s what to keep an eye out for when deciding if the fit is right for you:
Check the room at the toe box of the shoe by placing your thumb between your big toe and the top of the shoe. If it fits correctly, your thumb should fit into this space in order to avoid compression of the big toe joint or skin irritation from rubbing at the toe box
Check for space on both sides of the feet while in the shoe. It should not be so tight that you feel as though your foot is being squeezed but also shouldn’t be loose where you feel you could slide your foot around.
The heel box of the shoe should fit snuggly and rest at the point where your heel starts to narrow and create a small “nook” at your Achilles tendon
**When in doubt, put the shoes on and jog around the store. Most running shoe stores have a treadmill in the store for this exact purpose. You wouldn’t buy a pair of jeans without trying them on, so don’t settle for less in your running shoes.
Seek Help from a Physical Therapist
When picking a shoe just doesn’t feel right or you have pain that you feel can’t be addressed with a shoe fitting, consider seeing a physical therapist who can perform a running analysis and determine muscle imbalances and foot mechanics that can be addressed at the core to improve running and reduce pain for those longer runs. We can get you back to doing what you love, so use us as a resource!
Store Fitting Recommendation: Fleet Feet of Hartford, CT
Magna Physical Therapy is a proud partner with Fleet Feet of Hartford, CT for great running shoe prescription!