Sometimes a new pair of shoes really can solve all of your problems — at least when it comes to workout sneakers. Shoe comfort matters, especially if you're doing a high-impact activity like running. If you're a budding runner, you might feel like you're one new pair of shoes away from actually liking running. Good news, sneaker heads, you might be on to something.
Exercising in the right type of shoes for your feet and preferred workouts can be a game-changer. "Shoes that are designed to compensate for the impact of your feet can help prevent injuries and improve structural alignment and performance," explains Miguel Cunha, DPM, a podiatrist and founder of Gotham Footcare who specializes in foot and ankle sports medicine injuries, particularly in runners. Wearing the wrong shoes to your workout, on the other hand, can lead to injuries (including plantar fasciitis, runner’s knee, injuries, and early-onset arthritis), lowered performance, and discomfort, he adds.
Your feet are the "gateway to the rest of your body," Dr. Cunha says. Ignoring foot pain or wearing the wrong shoes for too long can not only exacerbate foot issues, but also affect the biomechanics of your body during your workouts, he adds. So, how do you know if your shoes are sabotaging your workout? Although everyone's feet are different, there are a few common signs that you should be on the lookout for: heel or arch pain, ingrown toenails, and knee or ankle pain, Dr. Cunha says. These foot ailments can be traced back to a different aspect of your workout sneaker.
When your shoe lacks a cushioned footbed and adequate arch support, it causes the ligament that runs under the sole of your foot, called the plantar fascia, to collapse and become inflamed as you run, Dr. Cunha says. Since this ligament attaches to the bottom of the heel bone, you might feel pain in your heel and arch after a run, he adds.
If you're someone who usually deals with knee pain after a run, it could be a sign that you require a shoe with a softer, more flexible midsole, Dr. Cunha says. These sneakers "look as if they don’t have an arch, but are rather filled in with more sole and cushioning, as this foot type doesn’t provide enough shock absorption on its own," he says. If you find something with a rubber sole, it'll also make your gait bouncier and smoother. Fit is also a crucial factor: shoes that are too small or narrow can squeeze your toes together and lead to ingrown toenails, he says.
Once you've figured out the problem with the shoes you currently have, you get to transition to the fun part, finding a new pair! Dr. Cunha suggests first figuring out your foot type by looking at the sole of your old shoes to determine where you put pressure when you walk. "Certain foot types are more prone to specific types of foot discomfort and foot related injuries," he says.
If most of the wear is on the top outer edge of your shoe, that's a sign that you supinate or under-pronate, Dr. Cunha says. That means you should be looking for a shoe with a lot of cushion and shock absorption. Or, if your shoe looks like it's worn evenly around the sole, that means you have a "neutral" or average gait, he says. A stability sneaker will provide a nice balance of cushioning and support on your foot as you run. And finally, if your shoes are worn on the top inner edge, that's a sign of pronation, he says. "With this foot type, you need motion-control or high-stability sneakers to keep your feet better aligned with your legs," he adds.
Often the best way to pick out a running shoe is to go to a store and try them on. You might also want to pick up the shoe and bend it to see how sturdy the shank of the shoe is. "You shouldn't be able to [bend it], because the shank is the actual structure of the shoe, and should be rigid to hold up and support the arch," Dr. Cunha says. Squeezing the heel of the shoe will tell you how firm it is. "You shouldn't be able to compress it, so when you're running it supports the heel," he adds. As we said, be sure that the shoe is wide enough in the forefoot to prevent toe and toenail problems such as bunions and ingrown toenails.
While this process might seem extra, it's worth it to feel more comfortable in your workouts. Who knows? With the right shoes, you might actually like running.