Given the assortment of colors, styles, and technologies available, it can be tempting to pick a pair of running shoes based on cool factor alone. But snapping up the sexiest pair of sneakers is decidedly not the right way to find the best running shoes, according to podiatrists. For the sake of your body's overall well-being, you'll want to make a choice based on your foot type.
"When it comes to foot health it is very important to have appropriate running shoes, because certain foot types are more prone to specific types of foot discomfort and foot related injuries," says Miguel Cunha, a board-certified podiatrist with Gotham Footcare. "Wearing the wrong shoes may lead to problems such as lowered performance and discomfort, but on the other hand (or foot), shoes designed to compensate for the impact of your feet can help prevent injuries and improve structural alignment and performance."
Your feet are the "gateway" to the rest of your body, says Dr. Cunha. Wearing the wrong shoes can cause issues that move from your toes all the way up through your hips and back—and leave you with persistent pain down the line. To help you navigate the sneaker aisle, we asked Dr. Cunha and Yolanda Ragland, DPM, founder and CEO of Fix Your Feet, Inc, how to pick out the best running shoes by foot type.
How to determine your foot type
Before you click "add to cart" on a new pair of running shoes, you first need to figure out what type of foot you have. The key? Doing some detective work on your tried-and-true faves. "Look at the soles of a pair of worn-in pairs of shoes—the wear patterns illustrate where you are accumulating pressure when you walk," says Dr. Cunha.
If the top outer edge is worn out: You're a hyper-supinator, which is often associated with high arches. “A hyper-supinator foot type is associated with a high arch during weight bearing,” said Dr. Ragland. “Due to a lack of shock absorption, hyper-supination may adversely affect other joints in the body like the ankles, knees, hips, and spine.” Hyper supinators are more prone to ankle sprains, torn ligaments and outer-knee pain, because they have high arches and their feet roll outward as they move.
If the inner edge is worn out: You're an over-pronator, otherwise known as "flat feet," which means that your foot collapses inward when you run. “An overpronator foot type is associated with excessively flat feet while weight bearing or standing,” says Dr. Ragland. “While pronation helps the foot with shock absorption and aids in uneven surfaces, an over-pronated foot can cause problems throughout the body by passing the impact to the legs, knees, hips, and spine.” Issues associated with this foot type (particularly when you're wearing the wrong shoes) include shin splints, bunions, Achilles tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis.
If the shoes are evenly worn: If your shoe is evenly worn you are "neutral," which means you have an average gait with equal weight distribution across the foot. “A neutral foot type is associated with a normal arch during weight bearing,” says Dr. Ragland. “It accommodates pronation and supination balancing gait while providing shock absorption." This foot type is the most stable of the three, which means injuries are less common.
The best running shoes for high arches ("hyper-supination")
If you're dealing with high arches or hyper-supination, it's important to find sneakers that have extra cushioning to aid in shock absorption since this type of foot doesn't provide enough shock absorption on its own. "Look for shoes with soft, flexible midsoles, and look as if they don’t have an arch at all but are rather filled in with more sole and cushioning," says Dr. Cunha. With running shoes, opt for something that has extra rubber in the sole (which Dr. Cunha explains translates into a "smoother and bouncier gait"), and for cross training, pick a shoe that has flexible grooves in the sole to "facilitate ballistic pivoting and cutting," says Dr. Cunha. In either situation, you'll also want to be sure that your shoe has a spacious toe box that allows your toes to move freely, which will minimize the discomfort in your arch, and a wide heel, which will add stability.
To find out if a particular sneaker works for high arches, you can put it through two tests. First, try to bend it in half to check out how rigid it is. "You shouldn't be able to, because the shank is the actual structure of the shoe and should be rigid to hold up and support the arch," says Dr. Cunha. Then, squeeze the heel of the shoe to see how firm it is. "You shouldn't be able to compress it, because there should be a good bit of padding called an 'ankle collar,' which is intended to protect and cushion the ankle and the achilles tendon," says Dr. Cunha. This, he adds, will help protect you from injury.
The best running shoes for flat feet ("over-pronation")
When you've got flat feet, you're going to want to opt for a pair of motion-control or high stability sneakers, which well help keep your feet better aligned with your legs. "Look for shoes that have a dense, supportive arch, which helps provide reinforcement and keeps the arches of the foot from collapsing," says Dr. Cunha. This type of shoes tend to be stiff, and only allows for flexibility near the toe area. "Shoes that are made for pronators have a medial post support, a wedge that is built into the shoe under the arch to prevent the arch from collapsing and/or rotating inward," says Dr. Cunha. By minimizing pronation, this construction helps distribute the impact of running more effectively.
If you're shopping for running shoes, he suggests opting for a pair that has stabilizing roll bars, which help protect the arches. if cross training is more your speed, look for something with a wide toe box, which will allow for "comfortable lateral movement, as pronating feet will collapse and spread within the shoe," he says.
The best running shoes for neutral feet
If you've got a neutral foot, it means you distribute your weight evenly as you move, so having motion control in your shoes isn't quite as important as it is with other foot types. What is important though, is stability. "With this foot type you need Stability or moderate-stability sneakers, which offer a balance of cushioning and support," says Dr. Cunha.
Neutral running shoes tend to have a flatter sole that's more uniform from heel-to-toe (and don't have a medial wedge) to provide even support throughout your foot. "A lightweight shoe that bends just to the ball of the foot will be sufficient enough to offer a good balance of cushioning and support," says Dr. Cunha. "When picking shoes for running, look for a shoe that provides traction and reduces instep strain. When picking shoes for cross-training pick shoes that have soles that look like a slinky which help put an extra spring in your step."
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