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Dr. Scott Biggerstaff, MD

Choosing the right athletic shoe for your foot is key to moving comfortably, efficiently and safely.

When looking for an athletic shoe, the first step is to determine what type of foot shape you have. Foot shape can be divided into three categories based on pronation, or how much the arch of your foot collapses when you walk:

  • Neutral Arch: the arch collapses a healthy amount
  • High Arch: the arch collapses very little (supinate)
  • Flat Foot: the arch collapses excessively (overpronate)

Neutral Arch

People with a neutral arch typically should look for a neutral shoe. Neutral arches tend to lend themselves to a lower injury rate and less problems, as long as the shoes do not wear out. Runners should replace their shoes every 4-6 months or every 300-500 miles, whichever comes first.

High Arch

People with high arches need a cushion-type shoe and may benefit from a custom orthotic to reduce the likelihood of injury. People with high arches put more weight on the outside of their feet. This weight displacement can lead to injuries such as stress fractures, calluses on the heel and ball of the foot, plantar fasciitis (heel pain) and frequent ankle pain.

Flat Foot

People with flat feet need to wear motion-control shoes. People with flat feet tend to roll inward with their foot and ankle when they walk. This continued motion can lead to Achilles tendonitis, bunions, hammertoes, plantar fasciitis and even ankle sprains. Flat-footed individuals can also benefit from custom orthotics to help prevent these problems.

Note: If you have Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis, you will want to wear a shoe with a slight heel to take pressure off of the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia.

Whether we admit it or not, most of us want to wear athletic shoes that feel good and look good. However, there are a couple of popular athletic shoe types that can increase your risk of injury. 

Zero-drop shoes, which are very flat and have no heel, are associated with plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis. Barefoot shoes, which were popular several years ago, offer no foot support, and I saw a lot of resulting stress fractures.

How to Choose Shoes that Fit Your Foot Best

  1. Shop for shoes at the end of the day. Our feet tend to be bigger at the end of the day. Trying on shoes or measuring your foot in the evening will ensure the shoes fit after being on your feet all day.
  2. Measure both feet. One foot can be bigger than the other. Always make sure the shoe fits your larger foot.
  3. Choose shoes with a removable insert. You can replace removable inserts with a custom orthotic if you choose to.
  4. Avoid shoes that require a break-in period. These shoes can cause pain and may never “break in” to your liking.
  5. Give your toes room. Make sure the shoes do not pinch your toes or cause them to cross over one another.
  6. Look for laces. Shoes that lace up will give you more support than ones that slip on or Velcro.
  7. Think foot first, shoe second. Make sure the shoe is appropriate for your foot rather than making your foot fit the shoe. For example, if you have a bunion, you will want to choose a shoe with a wider toe box. If you have a hammertoe, you will want to choose a shoe that has extra depth.

    Improper fitting shoes can cause foot pain and can even lead to stress fractures, hip and knee arthritis, shin splints and meniscus tears. Get to know your foot type and follow the tips above to choose an athletic shoe that’s right for you.

    Dr. Scott Biggerstaff, MD, is a fellowship-trained foot and ankle surgeon at OrthoCarolina Winston. He specializes in minimally-invasive bunion surgery.

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