So, you’re thinking about becoming a regular runner. Good for you!
Whether your long-term goal is completing your first marathon or just running for fun and personal fitness, we encourage all our patients to be active, and running is a great way to care for your mind and body.
But if you aren’t careful, running can also be a great way to hurt yourself. And if you suffer a running injury, it might not just keep you off the trail—it could really get in the way of work, other hobbies, and other day-to-day tasks.
Fortunately, reducing your risk of hurting yourself is pretty easy, and it starts with a solid foundation—your running shoes.
Running Shoes: Do They Really Matter?
If you know any hardcore runners, you probably know that they can be pretty obsessed with their running shoes. And that can be daunting for a would-be newbie. “Do I really have to spend $300 on a good pair of running shoes?”
Well, no. You don’t. That’s the good news.
But at the same time, you can’t just throw on any old pair of sneakers and expect that you’ll be able to run comfortably in them, either.
Running shoes are designed specifically to cushion, support, and stabilize the feet and ankles throughout the running motion. They’re tuned toward forward motion. If you tried to run in, say, basketball shoes instead, you’d run into problems—the high ankles would get in the way of proper running form and slow your pace, and the heavier weight would wear you out faster, to name just two.
But it’s more than just getting a sport-specific shoe. You also need to consider your foot shape and gait style.
Here’s what we mean.
With each running stride you take, your foot goes through a specific sequence of motions. First, your heel hits the ground. Then, the rest of the foot makes contact and your weight shifts overtop, the arch flexes and the foot rolls a little bit inward. (That’s pronation.) As you begin to push off, the foot rolls back outward until your heel lifts off and your weight is over the big toe and ball of the foot.
At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
The truth is, not everybody pronates the same way. In fact, most of us probably pronate too much (over pronation), while a few don’t pronate enough (under pronation or supination). And inefficient pronation can lead to a wide variety of painful conditions—heel pain, knee pain, Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, and more.
Fortunately, quality running shoes are designed to accommodate these gait variations. If you overpronate, for example, you could greatly benefit from shoes that offer extra arch support and stability features to control excess motion. On the other hand, supinators tend to get poor shock absorption, so shoes with a lot of flexibility and extra cushioning are ideal.
But how can you tell your gait style?
The Quick-and-Dirty Way to Check Your Pronation Style
Let’s be clear—the best way to identify your gait and pronation style is to run in front of an expert, who can watch (or videotape) your running stride and provide specific feedback.
But there are a couple of rough ways to gauge yourself at home: the wet test, and tread wear patterns.
The wet test is a way to check your arch height. Although it’s not a 100% correlation, people with flat feet tend to overpronate, while people with high arches tend to supinate.
To perform the test, fill a shallow pan with water—just enough to get the bottom of your foot wet. Then, step on something that can show your footprint. Construction paper or paper grocery bags are often ideal for this.
If you have a normal arch height, about half your arch (the outside edge to roughly the middle of the foot) should show up in the foot print. If your whole arch shows up, you probably have flat feet. A thin edge along the outside—or a complete separation between the heel and ball? High arches are a good bet.
If you already have an old pair of running shoes, you can also check the tread wear pattern for additional clues. Overpronators will wear down the inside portion of the shoe excessively, particularly in the heel and near the big toe. (They may even tilt in when you set them on a flat surface.) For under pronators, the opposite is true.
(For reference, a more neutral gait will show the most wear on the outside portion of the heel and relatively evenly across the ball of the foot, slightly favoring the big toe side.)
Running Shoe Shopping Tips
First off, skip the department store or the discount shoe outlet at the mall. If you want to find the right pair of running shoes for your feet, your best bet is to find a specialty running store with experienced staff.
A few other tips to help you pick the right pair:
- Shop later in the day, when feet tend to swell. This helps ensure your running shoes won’t get too tight even at the end of a long run.
- When trying on shoes, you want the conditions inside the shoe to be the same as they’ll be when you wear them on a run. That means wearing your running socks, as well as sliding in your orthotics (if you use them).
- Even if you don’t currently use any kind of orthotic device, it’s good to get a pair of shoes with a removable insole. This will allow you to accommodate orthotics later if necessary.
- Measure both feet, and try on both shoes, every time. Feet do get bigger (and flatter) even later in life, and it’s possible that one foot is larger than the other. Your shoes need to accommodate your largest foot.
- There should be about half an inch of space between your longest toe (either the first or second) and the front of the shoe. All ten toes should have plenty of room to wiggle.
- Try out each pair by walking (or ideally running a bit if possible) and testing the comfort. Your shoes should be comfortable immediately—don’t rely on a “break in” period. It won’t happen and your shoes won’t fit.
- The middle portion of the shoe and the heel should fit snugly when laced, so that the shoe doesn’t slide around back to front.
In order to keep your shoes in top shape, don’t wear them around the house or for other tasks—they should be dedicated to running only.
Running shoes generally need to be replaced after about 300-500 miles, depending on how well made they are and how much abuse they take. Over time, the midsole will compress and won’t be able to absorb impact shocks as well. That means more force transferred directly to your feet, and more aches and pains.
Those are the basics! We certainly hope that, with the right pair of shoes on your feet, you’re ready to go forth and run—safely, stylishly, and without pain.
However, if you do notice any aches and pains cropping up, don’t take your chances. Give us a call. Our office provides comprehensive foot and ankle care, and we’d be glad to diagnose your problem and set you up with an effective treatment plan. Our goal is to get you back on the road (or the trail) as quickly and simply as possible.
To schedule, call the El Paso office closest to you today:
- Curie Drive: (915) 533-5151
- George Dieter Drive: (915) 856-3331