Selecting Supportive Shoes

Caitlin Hard
Caitlin Hard Executive Assistant at AHS

Each morning we quickly slip a pair of shoes on our feet and walk out the door. Sure, it’s exciting to wear those trendy sandals or the latest in fashion sneakers, but you’ll also want to consider functionality when selecting shoes. Shoe choice can affect your whole body, not just your feet. A good pair of shoes could help prevent injuries and relieve existing pain.

Our Therapists at Allied Health Solutions commonly treat foot and ankle injuries, and are skilled at gait analysis, and examining orthotics, running and/or daily-wear shoes. With some help from footwear experts like, Runner’s World, PTs at AHS hope to share some suggestions for selecting the right shoes.

General Shoe Shopping Tips

  • Shop for shoes in the afternoon…your foot swells up to a half size throughout the day and during/after physical activity due to increased blood flow.1
  • Shop at a specialty store that can analyze your walking/running patterns.
  • Wear the same types of socks and/or inserts to the store that you plan to wear with the shoes.
  • Stand in the shoes, make sure that your toe does not touch the end of the shoe as you walk.
  • Consider the width as well as length and purchase a size “wide” if necessary.
  • Walk on hard surfaces as well as carpet to see how comfortable/traction is on both surfaces.
  • Have your feet measured each time you shop, foot size can change over time.4

Features of a “Good Shoe”

  • Has a small amount of torque. Hold the shoe at both ends. You should be able to twist it slightly.2
  • Are comfortable for the arches of your feet.
  • Are wide enough in the toe box (do not cause your toes to curl or squeeze together tightly).
  • Are comfortable right away, do not require “breaking in”.

Characteristics of Common Shoe Types

The University of Michigan’s Health Services department provides some helpful suggestions for selecting shoes of various types:

“Sport” Shoes– although there are differences in the outsoles for court sports like basketball, and field sports like soccer, for all sport shoes you should look for a shoe that provides increased ankle and arch support to tolerate the quick direction changes and side-to-side movements that athletes often make.

Sandals– flip flops, slides, and most summer sandals are best for walking short distances. If you anticipate a long-distance summer walk, sandals with straps, arch support, and/or a wrap around the ankle, such as Birkenstocks or Chacos, are a more supportive option.

Women’s Dress Shoes– the negative physical effects of women’s heels far outweigh any fashion benefit. However, it’s obvious that these fashion staple pieces aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. If possible, only wear heels when you must, and opt for a lower heel, a block heel, or wedges. A wider heel offers increased balance and ankle support, and a lower height heel decreases the pressure on the forefoot and arch.

Simplified Anatomy of a Running Shoe

Unless you are an avid runner or a shoe expert, you may be unfamiliar with the detailed anatomy of a running shoe. Below we have outlined a few of the basic features3,4.

Heel/Ankle collar– cushions and holds the ankle in place

What to look for: choose a shoe with an ankle collar that does not slip or cause excessive rubbing, and doesn’t create pressure on your Achilles tendon

Upper– Holds the shoe on your foot. Traditionally made of layers of fabric and mesh, some made of knit material.

What to look for: an upper that traces the shape of your foot

Insole– cushions and supports the soles and arches of your feet. Custom orthotic or standard inserts can supplement or replace the original insole of a shoe to increase comfort or provide additional support

Outsolethe grooves and treads on the bottom of the shoe that make contact with the ground. Often made of rubber and/or foam.

What to look for: an outsole that provides ample traction for your intended terrain, is durable but still flexible and comfortable, provides stability but is not too heavy, and matches the overall shape of your foot.

For a more detailed list of running shoe features, as well as recommendations for specific preferences like lightweight, stability, or trail running shoes, check out this article from Runner’s World.

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