How to Choose Running Shoes

A good pair of running shoes is an important piece of equipment for any athlete. Shoes that are chosen specifically for foot type and fitted properly can help keep athletes healthy and possibly prevent injuries such as shin splints and stress fractures. The guide below will help you determine how to shop for the right shoe for your foot and explain when to get rid of your old shoes in favor of a new pair.

Foot Types and Shoe Qualities

  • Low arched feet or flat feet are those that do not have much of a gap between the floor and the arch of the foot when standing. This foot type is very flexible and needs a shoe that can control its motion. Look for a shoe that has a rigid heel counter and more durable foam in the middle 1/3 of the midsole (often there is a change in foam color or texture in these types of shoes).
  • High arched feet are those that have a large gap between the floor and the arch of the foot. This foot type tends to be rigid and needs a shoe that can absorb the shock of running. Look for a shoe that is flexible and has a thick and cushioned midsole.
  • Neutral feet are those that have an arch height between high and low. This foot type can accommodate most shoe types.

Parts of the Shoe

  • Heel Counter: A rigid piece surrounding the heel that provides stability.
  • Upper: The part of the shoe that encloses the foot and includes the laces.
  • Midsole: The portion between the outer-sole and upper that is responsible for most of the shoe’s shock absorption.
  • Outer-sole: The outer layer of the bottom of the shoe where the treads are.
  • Toe Box: The area where the toes are located.

Preparing for Your Trip to the Shoe Store

  • Go to the shoe store toward the end of the day, when your feet are naturally slightly swollen.
  • Bring your old shoes with you! Note your likes and dislikes, problems, and injuries so the salesperson can help you make an appropriate selection.
  • Also, bring any orthotics/inserts, ankle braces, and socks you normally wear during athletic activity. Fit any new shoe wearing these items to make sure the shoe works with your needs.

How to Tell if it’s the Right Fit

First, make sure to try both shoes on (with socks, braces, and orthotics/inserts, if applicable) and lace them properly. Wear them around for 10 minutes to make sure nothing is poking or rubbing. Good running shoe stores actually allow you to run in them to see how they feel (do so if you have the chance). Other indicators of a proper fit are:

  • The shoe should bend at the ball of the foot where the toes bend. If the shoe bends farther forward or behind where the toes bend, this means the shoe is too big or small (which could result in unneeded stress occurring elsewhere on the foot).
  • There should be an index finger width between the longest toe and the end of the shoe.
  • The heel should be stable and should not move in and out of the heel counter.
  • The foot should not slide back and forth inside the shoe when stopping or starting.

When to Replace Shoes

If you are a runner, keep track of your mileage. Shoes should be replaced between 300 and 500 miles, depending on your training. In general, shoes should be replaced at least once per athletic season (if not more, depending on activity). Shoes should also be replaced if they show unevenness in wear when placed on a flat surface or if there is noticeable creasing in the midsole.

Remember that the midsole (which is the portion of the shoe that absorbs shock) is usually the first part to wear out in athletic shoes. If all of a sudden you start experiencing aches and pains that you haven’t dealt with before (such as shin splints or knee pain), it could be because the shoes are no longer absorbing the shock of running and your body is instead! This may be a signal that it is time to change shoes. If you do not, the aches and pains could become overuse injuries.

Choosing a Shoe Store

If you are unsure how to shop for athletic shoes, specialty running shoe stores have experienced salespeople that can help you find the proper fit. Your coach or sports medicine specialist may be able to recommend specific stores in your area that will meet your needs and budget.


For More Information

Please note that not all aches and pains can be attributed solely to shoe wear. If you have persistent problems, consult your sports medicine specialist in a timely manner before the issue becomes worse.

Consult your primary care physician for more serious injuries that do not respond to basic first aid. As an added resource, the staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine is available to diagnose and treat sports-related injuries for youth or adolescent athletes. Services are now available in five locations. To make an appointment, call (614) 355-6000 or request an appointment online.

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