What to Look for in Running Shoes
As runners run longer distances, the number of overuse injuries to the knees and ankles increase. One of the ways to help prevent these injuries is purchasing appropriate running shoes. When selecting running shoes, it is important to know what type of arch you have and your running style. A qualified salesperson in a specialized running footwear store should be able to screen a runner’s mechanics to match the appropriate footwear to maximize comfort and reduce overuse injury risk.
Foot arches can be categorized as low, neutral, or high. Low and high-arch runners have been reported to have an increased incidence of injury compared to neutral-arch individuals. Low-arch individuals are “pronators” and have excessive motion in their feet which makes them more prone to “soft tissue” injuries such as tendinitis. High arch runners, on the other hand, are “supinators,” and have more rigid feet, and experience high impact loads which make them more prone to bony injuries such as stress fractures.
Analysis of one’s running mechanics and arches can be performed at running shoe stores or by physical therapists that specialize in running or foot and ankle disorders.
There are two main types of specialized running shoes, motion control (MC) and cushioning training (CT). MC shoes provide rear foot control of motion and, thus, more rigidity, whereas CT shoes provide more shock absorption. To limit the excess motion in the joints of the feet, the more rigid MC shoes are recommended in low-arch runners. To provide more “cushion” or shock absorption for rigid feet, CT shoes are recommended for high-arch individuals.
In special circumstances where the shoes do not completely correct the underlying problem, orthotics may be indicated. Orthotic choices include “off the shelf” orthotics and customized orthotics. With customized orthotics, molds are made of your feet and pressure measurements are obtained by professionals trained in orthotics. Orthotics are then constructed based on the analysis.
When to obtain new running shoes is often confusing. Running shoes lose stability and shock absorption capabilities with increased mileage. This can lead to increased stress on the lower extremities and increased risk of an overuse injury. It is recommended that shoes be replaced every 350-550 miles depending on running style, body weight, and the running surface. Lighter weight runners, runners who run at a slower pace and runners who run on softer surfaces can safely change shoes at the higher end of the range. Heavier runners, who run at a faster pace, or those who run on harder surfaces, should change shoes at the lower end of the above range.
In addition to the above mileage recommendations, runners should look for signs of shoe wear. Aches or pains in the knees, legs, ankles, and feet may be indicative of increased stresses on the lower extremities as a result of excessive shoe wear.
Next, you can look for wrinkles or creases in the shoe which can be indicative of a worn out midsole. You can also twist the shoe to test for stiffness, as a worn out shoe will twist more easily.
Finally, you can try on a new pair of shoes to see if there is a significant difference in comfort and cushion. If there is, this may be an indication that the older shoes need to be replaced.
Knowing when to replace a running shoe and with what, in conjunction with common sense, can help runners keep on the track and healthy..