Here’s my story. I’m a runner, and I often suffer from foot, knee, hip and back injuries, and I’ve been told about 1,000 times over that it’s most likely the shoes that I’m wearing that are causing my injuries. So I went on a quest to find out if the shoes that I wear are actually causing me to get injured, and if finding my perfect type of shoe will actually prevent injuries.
What I’ve found is that yes, your running shoe choice can greatly affect your risk of injury, so it’s beyond important to find a pair that is perfect for you. From seeing every regular doctor, orthopedic doctor, chiropractor and physical therapist in my town, the article that follows is what I’ve come to find in terms of choosing a good pair of shoes based on the way you run, how much you run, and what injuries you are overly prone to.
Running is such a wonderful, happy and natural sport, and no one should have to deal with injuries the way I’ve had to. So I’m here to help you avoid it.
Analyze Your Stride
The first step in choosing a good running shoe is to analyze the way that you run. This can be as simple as getting a friend with a video camera, going outside and running a few steps as naturally as possible, or getting on a treadmill with a video camera on your feet. It can even be as easy as looking at the shoes you wear most often: set them side by side on a table, and look at the heel of the shoe. Does the tread on the bottom wear off in one direction or the other, or is the hell totally smooth and straight across? Here’s why analyzing your stride is important.
The natural human foot strikes on its outside and slightly rolls inward as the stride advances. This is perfectly normal, but in some people, the foot doesn’t roll enough, or oftentimes even worse, it rolls too far. Overpronation is the term used for people who strike on the outside of their foot and roll it inward too much. It’s easily diagnosed with the shoe test: if the heels of your shoes look like they slant inwards as they wear down, your stride is likely overpronated.
Underpronation, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite. This is when the foot strikes on the outside and doesn’t roll in far enough. The heels of your shoes when placed side by side will look slanted to the outside.
Once you determine your pronation, check your strike pattern. Most runners will notice that they run with a heel strike, which means they’re landing on their heel then rolling to their forefoot as the stride advances.
Others will notice a forefoot strike, like running on your toes, basically. These runners strike with their forefoot, and hardly put any pressure whatsoever on their heels throughout the entire stride.
Also analyze your arches. If you were to leave a footprint in the sand, would your arch leave a big blank space in the middle of your print? Or would your entire foot be visible? If you have high arches, the inside portion of your foot is too far off the ground. If you have flat feet, on the other hand, your foot is just that – flat. Completely flat.
There are shoes out there made for overpronated feet, underpronated feet, high arches, flat feet, heel strikers and forefoot strikers, so now the difficulty is finding them.
What to Look For
If your foot overpronates, you’ll want to look for a shoe with motion control and maximum support. You want to combat that movement of your foot inward to avoid injuring yourself. Controlling the heel support of your foot will help with this, and runners with flat feet may also benefit from a good pair of motion control shoes. They tend to be best suited for heavier, larger runners who have an extreme amount of pressure on their feet when they run, but they can be beneficial to any runner lookig to combat overpronation.
Underpronated runners often also suffer from high arches, and the two work together to try to destroy your body every time you go out for a run. You’ll want to look for a flexible shoe that has mid-level support midsole to absorb shock. When you’re in the store, try to find the shoes that say “flexible” right on them, or “support.”
If you have flat feet, look for something with solid arch support, or even see an orthopedic doctor for custom-made inserts to support your arches. Continually running on flat feet can greatly increase your risk of injuries, so it’s important that you support and lift that middle part of your foot to distribute your body weight correctly on your foot and lower leg with every step.
If you’re a heel striker, you want something that has some extra cushioning in the heel of the shoe. Heel striking can prove to be dangerous because of the added weight and pressure you’re exuding onto your foot, although it is the most common running style. Think of it this way: running with a heel strike is like hammering the bottom of your heel with 1.5-3 times your body weight over 1,000 times every mile.
For runners who heel strike, you may want to even consider some alternative running shoes, which I’ll discuss with you in a moment. These shoes will help encourage your body to run with a forefoot strike, which is much less impact and shock on the rest of your body.
So forefoot strikers, you’re good to go! You can pretty much choose from a wide variety of shoes, but make sure none of them will manipulate your form, because that’s what’s keeping you from getting injured. Don’t go for anything that’s too cushioned or will encourage you to run any differently than you already do.
Alternative Running Shoes
If you’re a chronic injury sufferer like me, you may even want to consider switching to a more minimalist approach.
The natural foot is built for running, and the entire human body is made to run for hours on end, believe it or not. Depending on how you look at it, you could argue that all of these fancy overly cushioned shoes that Nike and other companies have created over the past half century have only caused problems that weren’t already there.
The natural foot strikes at the forefoot. As it lands, the toes spread to absorb shock to the rest of your lower body, preventing knee, hip, back and even neck injuries.
With a minimalist running shoe, your foot is encouraged to spread at the toes, which also pushes a forefoot strike. Often when runners make the switch over to minimalist running shoes, they have to retrain themselves to run and even walk to hold that forefoot strike. It’s how your body is naturally supposed to work and the shoes that we’ve created now pull us away from our natural form.
It is believed that minimalist or even barefoot runners can prevent any and every injury by simply using a natural forefoot strike, but if you decide to make the transition, do so very slowly. You literally have to retrain your body, and you’ll be working muscles in your feet and legs that you didn’t realize you had. It will take some time, but it may save you from some major injuries down the road.
Personally, I made the switch to the New Balance Minimalist trail running shoes from my traditional cushioned road running shoes (many people even switch right to the Vibram Five Fingers), and I’ll never go back. I’ve found that my back pain has eased up dramatically and I haven’t had a knee or foot issue since I switched. I was sore for the first couple of weeks, and had to decrease my mileage drastically, but it was worth it.
My last bit of advice for anyone in the market for a new running shoe is to know when to replace them. Overworking your running shoes can be almost as bad as wearing the wrong ones. Be sure you replace them ever 350-400 miles to make sure you’re not causing any damage to your body with old shoes. They’re worth the investment (anywhere from about $50-$200 depending on what you’re buying – my New Balances were about $100). Happy running!