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Pumped-up kicks

The old saying, “If the shoe fits, wear it” doesn’t hold weight. Wearing the wrong shoe can have long-term effects, including arthritis. A good shoe will cushion and protect the joint and can help prevent injury.

It's recommended you choose athletic shoes based on both your activity and foot motion when looking for your perfect fit.

Identify your foot motion

Your foot motion refers to the way your foot strikes the ground when you run. Most specialty sports stores offer a foot motion analysis to help determine which shoe will work best. However, if you don’t have time to visit a store take, a look at your old tennis shoes. The pattern of wear and tear can tell you about your movement patterns.

  • Evenly worn tread with wear showing on the ball of the foot and the heel: You’re a neutral pronator.
    Congratulations! You have the most balanced foot type with an average gait, nice arches and even weight distribution. Look for a lightly cushioned, mild stability shoe to keep you in stride.
  • Tread loss along the inner edges with possible holes worn at the big toe: You’re an over-pronator.
    Those who over-pronate roll their feet inward when they run. Over-pronators benefit from motion-control or stability shoes that limit pronation and control foot motion.
  • Tread loss along the outer edges with possible holes worn at the pinky toe: You’re a supinator (under-pronator).
    High arches often contribute to supination, which means that your feet roll outward when you run or walk. You need cushioned, flexible shoes for enhanced shock absorption.

Choose your activity

Going bare

Curious about those shoes that look like toe socks? They’re meant for barefoot running, a trend that has become popular among athletic minimalists. Those who go bare see it as a more natural form of running that encourages a forefoot strike rather than heel-to-toe. But is there really any benefit? It seems there’s not enough research yet. No studies have expanded on the benefits and detriments of forefoot running.

Different activities place different demands on the feet, which is why shoes are designed to be sport-specific. A running shoe supports your feet differently from a walking shoe, and a basketball shoe offers different benefits from a cross-training shoe. Selecting the right shoe will depend on the type of activities you plan to participate in. Three of the most common shoe types are:

  • Running shoes: Running shoes are built up in the heel to provide better shock absorption, since runners typically run heel to toe. Running shoes have more cushioning than walking shoes to ease the impact on muscles and joints.
  • Walking shoes: Walking shoes are made with less heel cushioning and tend to be stiffer and heavier than running shoes. Wiesner warns that although running shoes can be used for walking, the opposite is not true.
  • Cross-trainers: People who vary their workout or who play multiple sports should choose a cross-training shoe. Cross-trainers are made to support side-to-side movements and are generally heavier and less cushioned than running shoes.

When to see a doctor

If you notice pain in your feet, hips or knees for a week or longer despite wearing the correct shoe, you may need specially made devices called orthotics. A doctor who specializes in disorders of the foot and ankle, such as an orthopedic surgeon or podiatrist, can prescribe you custom orthotics that precisely support the way you move.