Choosing a running shoe

with advice from Virginia Davis, PT, MA,
Brian Hoke, PT, DPT, SCS,
and Laura Winslow, PT, DPT, ACT

Choosing a running shoe

As the fall marathon season approaches, with major races scheduled for Chicago on October 13 and New York on November 3, Physiquality will be publishing three consecutive posts on running and marathons. Be sure to stay tuned for our next post on having your gait analyzed by a physical therapist, something one of our experts advocates if you’re having issues finding the right running shoe for your needs.

What should runners look for in a running shoe? Virginia Davis, a physical therapist and owner of Crescent City Physical Therapy (a Physiquality network member in New Orleans), acknowledges that it can be a daunting task to buy running shoes. She reminds runners to “find the best shoe for YOUR feet!” This means that you need to know a great deal about your physiology and your running stride before you make that purchase.

Your physical therapist can help you understand these factors with a biomechanical evaluation. According to Laura Winslow, a PT and the clinical director of the Eastside location of Allegheny Chesapeake Physical Therapy (a Physiquality member with 10 locations in Pennsylvania), “A physical therapist can identify the anatomical type of your foot (i.e., whether you have stiff or flexible arches) and make suggestions as to the proper type of shoe for your needs.”

Your foot's anatomy should direct you when deciding what running shoes to try on.Brian Hoke, a physical therapist and a member of the Vasyli Medical Think Tank, agrees that the anatomy of your foot should direct you when deciding what to try on. “A runner with flexible feet will notice that their arches become flatter when they stand up,” he says, noting that such runners usually benefit from motion control shoes that have a straighter shape to the sole and more firmness on the inner (arch) side of the shoe. On the flip side, he says, runners with stiffer, higher arches should look for a shoe with a slight curve to the shape of the sole and more emphasis on cushioning.

You may also want to consider your form, whether you land on the ball of your foot or your heel when running. Brian points to recent questioning of the amount of cushioning in the heel of running shoes — some say it leads runners to increase heel impact when running and can lead to more injury. As a result, shoe companies have been releasing newer, minimalist models with less cushioning in the heel, encouraging a runner to shift her form toward the ball of the foot. Be careful with such models, though, Brian cautions; if a runner has had injuries or problems with his calf muscles or Achilles tendon, these shoes could aggravate the problems and should be avoided.

Many running shoes have removable insoles, allowing for the insertion of orthotics or customized inserts.Keep in mind as well that many running shoes have removable insoles, allowing for the insertion of orthotics or customized inserts. These can help to stabilize your foot even more and reduce your chance of injury. (Learn more about orthotics from Physiquality partner program Vasyli.) Many PTs customize orthotics in their clinics; search for a Physiquality clinic in your area to see if there is one nearby.

When shopping for running shoes, be sure to tell your salesperson about any previous injuries, particularly if they have come from running. Virginia says that shin splints, stress fractures, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, forefoot pain, and even blisters and calluses are all vital considerations when looking for the right shoe for your feet. Such problems may have stemmed from previous running shoes, so be sure to tell the salesperson what shoes you’ve run in before (or bring them in — looking at how the shoes wore down may also help to point you to the proper shoes).

Once you know what type of shoe you want to purchase, Laura advocates trying on a variety of manufacturers; Nike, Saucony, New Balance and Asics all make good running shoes, she says, but you need to try them on before knowing what fits your needs. Even if you know your size, have your feet measured and try a variety of sizes — Virginia points out that sizes can vary not only between manufacturers but also between models from the same company. Virginia also suggests bringing your favorite running socks (to ascertain fit with their thickness) and to shop towards the end of the day, when your feet are largest, as your feet may swell when running, and you should keep that in mind when trying on shoes.

Run around the store or take a lap on a treadmill.If possible, run around the store or take a lap on a treadmill, if one’s available — shoes feel differently when running vs. walking or standing. And tell the salesperson about your training regimen and the type of runner you are: Do you train for speed or distance? Are you a fast runner or a slow one? On what type of surface do you train (dirt, trails, asphalt, treadmills)? Virginia notes that you might want different types of shoes for different types of training and surfaces.

Pay attention to how the shoe feels on your foot. Laura says, “A running shoe should have adequate room in the toe box to avoid repeated trauma between the front of the shoe and the toes.” (Brian suggests having at least ¼” of space beyond the longest toe.) They also remind runners that the heel should not move up and down inside the shoe, and there should be adequate width across the ball of the foot, especially if you have a wide foot or bunions.

Above all, try to purchase your shoes at a running specialty store with people who are educated and experienced. If you’re not sure where to shop, Virginia notes, your local running club may have suggestions. Such stores are usually locally-owned and cater to the needs of the running community.

Virginia Davis, PT, MA Virginia Davis, PT, MA, is a physical therapist and owner at Crescent City Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member in New Orleans, Louisiana. A foot/ankle specialist with more than 35 years of experience, she is also a board member of PTPN, the nation’s premier network of rehabilitation therapists in independent practice, and the parent company of Physiquality.
Brian Hoke, PT, DPT, SCS Brian Hoke, PT, DPT, SCS, is the director and co-owner of Atlantic Physical Therapy in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Brian is a member of the Vasyli Medical Think Tank, a select group of medical professionals committed to educating clinicians in the role of biomechanics in injuries and developing innovative new products from this perspective; Vasyli is one of Physiquality’s partner programs.
Laura Winslow, PT, DPT, ACT Laura Winslow, PT, DPT, ACT, is the clinical director of the Eastside location of Allegheny Chesapeake Physical Therapy, a Physiquality member with 10 locations in Pennsylvania. A certified athletic trainer, Laura spent 10 years working with the United States Field Hockey Federation and traveling with the Women’s National Field Hockey Team as their athletic trainer/physical therapist. She also serves as an adjunct physical therapy faculty member at Chatham University.

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For further information, look through our selection of articles on running, in addition to the below links:

Reynolds, Gretchen. Is barefoot running the best? New studies cast doubt. New York Times, June 5, 2013.

Running inside: Things to keep in mind on a treadmill. Physiquality, November 1, 2012.

Shoe inserts and orthotics: Are they right for you? Physiquality, October 1, 2012.

Proper running techniques. Physiquality, April 16, 2012.

Reynolds, Gretchen. Making the case for running shoes. New York Times, March 21, 2012.

Reynolds, Gretchen. Does foot form explain running injuries? New York Times, February 8, 2012.

Reynolds, Gretchen. Are we built to run barefoot? New York Times, June 8, 2011.

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Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.