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Running Shoes

Monday, April 26, 2021

Running Shoes

Not something you just pull off the shelf.

The grass is green, the birds are singing, and the temperatures are perfect for running outdoors again. It is running season! As a physical therapist, I see a lot of injuries this time of year because people have started running outside again without having the proper footwear. When we start running outside our bodies work harder because they compensate for the uneven ground, wind, and other elements. Adding these variables make it even more important that you have the right running shoe.

Before selecting your shoes there a few things you need to consider. You need to determine where you will be running and what the terrain will be like. If you will be running on gravel or dirt you will need a different shoe than if you are running on pavement. You also want to consider your running style and foot type when selecting the right shoes. You also need to think about your goals for running. Will you be running a couple of miles just to stay in shape, are you planning to run a 10k or are you going to run a marathon? Another thing to consider is the quality of shoe construction. You don’t want a poorly constructed shoe that is going to cause extra stress to your body. Over the next few paragraphs, I will give you a few tips based on the considerations we just listed.

If you are going to be running on gravel or dirt, a trail running shoe will provide better traction. A trail shoe will decrease the strain on your legs from slipping that might occur with a standard running shoe. If you are running on pavement, a standard running shoe will provide the best cushioning which is important to help reduce the risk of stress fractures. It is also a good idea to choose shoes that fit your goals. If you are wanting to run just a couple of miles, a few days per week to stay in shape, buying lower end and more cost prohibitive shoes ($80-$120) is ok. You would still be better off with a higher end shoe, but if you allow at least a day of rest for your shoes the lower end shoes won’t wear out too quickly because you are running fewer miles per week. However, if you are training for a 10k or further then you should definitely spend the extra money for a higher end shoe ($100-$160). The materials in the higher end shoes are more resistant to wear and recover more quickly, so they hold up better to the constant pounding of training.

These next tips are probably the most important. You want to make sure you have a well-constructed shoe that is not putting your body in harms way. There are a few things you can do to check if your shoe is well constructed. The first is checking to see if it is flat to the ground. This is easy to do. You just set the shoe onto a flat stable surface then alternate tapping down on the back corners and front near the widest part of the shoe. The shoe should have little to no rocking when you do this. If it has a large side to side roll when you tap the corners, then the shoe is not very stable on the ground. Watch this video to see how the rocking test is performed. This will make your foot less stable while running and increase the workload of your foot and ankle. Another quick and easy test is to hold the shoe on both ends and try to bend it in half. The shoe should have very little to no bend where the arch would be. It is normal for it to bend where the “ball” of your foot is which is also typically the widest part of the shoe. You also want to look the shoe over for any defects such as the sole and upper part of the shoe showing separation or the upper part not being centered on the sole.

Another very important consideration is matching your foot type to your shoe. While this can be a very complicated discussion, most shoe companies have tried to make it a little simpler. The shoe companies that do a good job of making running shoes will make different shoes for different types of feet. The three common types of shoes are: motion control, stability, and neutral. In general, motion control shoes are made for people with a low arch, stability are for a medium arch and neutral are for high arches. These types of shoes are designed with the specific needs of each foot type in mind.  The stability shoe is the one you find the most because it can be used by people with lower and higher arches. If you have a very flat foot you should try to find a motion control shoe because they provide support to your flexible foot. If you have a very high arch you should try to find a neutral shoe because they provide cushioning to your rigid foot. Unfortunately, this information is not typically found on the box at the store. The best way to find these types of shoes is to ask the shoe salesperson. A good shoe salesperson will know what shoe is for what foot type.

You also want to make sure the foot is appropriate for your running style. There are three basic types of running styles that affect your shoe selection. They are heel strike, toe or forefoot strike and midfoot strike. These types refer to what part of your foot contacts the ground first when you are running. If your foot is completely flat on the ground at first contact you’re are a midfoot strike runner. If you land on your toes then you’re a toe strike runner. Heel strike running is where your heel hits the ground first and is the way most recreational runners run. If you run with a heel strike or midfoot strike pattern you want to have more cushioning at the heel to protect your joints and bones. If you are a toe strike runner then the minimalist or zero drop shoes are ok for you, but you can also still use shoes with a more cushioned heel.

Shoes that I personally recommend are ASICS, Brooks, Saucony, and New Balance. I have personally ran in ASICS, New Balance, and Brooks when training for the various races I have done. I like ASICS the best because I have wider feet and the toe box of ASICS typically run a little wider. Another thing that I like about ASICS is they have made it easy to find the shoe that is right for your foot. They have a color coded “last” which is the part of the shoe just under the insole. While shopping for shoes you can peel back the insole and see the color to determine if the shoe is right for you. A blue last indicates a neutral shoe, red indicates a motion control shoe, and yellow indicates a stability shoe.

So where do barefoot running shoes fit into this? I am not a big proponent of these shoes because most people do not have adequate foot strength and structure to tolerate running extended distances without support. While it is true that by taking away support, the muscles in your feet will have to work harder and thus get stronger, it is also true that if you don’t adequately prepare your feet through strengthening or slowly build up your running distances you can suffer from tendinopathy, stress fracture, and other injuries which can quickly derail you. Most people will do better by having some support and typically people need more support than they think. It is also a misnomer that by wearing supportive shoes your muscles aren’t having to work. When you run your muscles must activate in order to propel you and all of the muscles in your foot are required. My last thought on the barefoot shoes is that just because the people hundreds of years ago ran barefoot doesn’t mean we can today. The people hundreds of years ago were not running on cement for 5 miles and they likely had better bone density then we do today. They also were very unlikely to live over the age of 70. With that said, if you use these shoes and love them that is great! I just do not recommend them to my patients.

If you have any questions about running shoes you can call Cozad Community Physical Therapy at 308-784-2231 or email me at [email protected] and I would be happy to help you.

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