It’s officially Spring, and Daylight Savings has now begun. This generally means the days are longer, the motivation is returning, and the runners are getting dusted off for some seasonal activity. This is typically a time when we as Physio's see a spike in soft tissue injuries due to increased running and ill-fitting footwear.
Runners aren’t just runners. Unfortunately, we cannot just pick them off the shelf based on style or colour (sigh😕). Each brand has an array of models to cater for different demands and foot types, and we are here to help you learn a little more about that. Read on to learn more about runners and what you can do to minimise your risk of purchasing the wrong pair for your feet.
Did you know that there are runners that are designed for different activities? Let’s go through the key styles of runners on the market today.
Traditional running shoes are designed for sagittal plane movement. What this means, is activities that involve a forward and/or backwards motion– like running and walking.
Cross trainers on the contrary, provide lateral support for activities that involve side to side movement for example netball, squash, and tennis. These shoes are also firmer on the outer sole to provide durability and are therefore not suitable for longer runs/walks. These are often marketed to specific sports demands, such as Netburners / tennis / court shoes.
Weightlifting / Trainers: There are even shoes specifically designed for lifting / strength training that have a flat/hard sole to provide stability with activities such as squatting or deadlifting. Other shoes that can double as lifting shoes include converse, vans or other hard based flat lace up shoes. Alternatively, if you’ve been cleared by your physio, weight training in bare feet can also have additional benefits to the strength of your intrinsic foot muscles and can be more advantageous than lifting in your cushion-y runners. It also enables better stability from the ground up, enabling better drive and generation of force during your compound movements.
Selecting your footwear based on the demands of your feet will ensure your feet and joints stay happy whilst minimising unnecessary stress during activity.
Once you’ve figured out the type of runner you need for your activity, let’s take a closer look at what key features make up a running shoe.
Outsole: The type of rubber used on the outer surface of a runner - it dictates both the ‘softness’ and the durability of the base of the shoe
Toe box + Shoe Width: The shape of the toe box is an important consideration when fitting a pair of runners. You ever heard of the expression “you can’t fit a square peg inside a round hole”? This visual is important for the shape of the forefoot when buying new shoes. Ensure the shape of the front of the shoe approximately follows the shape of your toes as per diagram reference above.
This is especially important for long distance runners/walkers where blisters, corns, black toe nails, bunions or tingling/pins and needles (neuroma) are apparent.
Support structures: Often made from a harder density material that is designed to stop your foot and ankle from excessively rolling inward (over pronation) or outward (supination) during your gait cycle.
Medial arch support: depending on where your ankle and foot begins to roll in during your gait cycle, the support on the inside of the shoe will either be focused at the heel for pronation at initial contact or through the arch of the shoe for mid foot over pronation. This is designed to enable your foot, ankle, knees, hips and pelvis to be aligned during activity and reduce excessive forces applied, preventing potential pain and injury.
Lateral support: aim is to soften the blunt force of landing laterally whilst guiding the foot back into a more neutral alignment for foot types that roll outwards
Heel support: often a plastic support structure that is either in built into the interior of the heel or anchored on the outside of the heel of the shoe to secure the heel and Achilles into the shoe and promote correct alignment when the heel contacts the ground at heel strike.
Cushion system: A layer of softer density material that is located within the midsole of the shoe. Most runners have heel cushioning, but not all models will have cushioning that extends to the ball of the foot.
Depending on the flexibility of the foot, not everyone requires the maximum amount of cushioning.
A more flexible foot that tends to roll inwards will have good ability to absorb shock/forces and will require more stability features within a shoe.
A neutral to supinating foot type that has more rigid tendencies is less flexible and often requires less support mechanisms and more force absorption properties and benefits from additional cushioning features within the forefoot of the shoe, in addition to the heel.
Shape of the last
If you were to trace around the edge of the shoe, this outline gives you the shape of the last of the shoe. Depending on how much contact area your foot has with the ground will help to determine what shape last you require in your runner.
If you were to walk over concrete with wet feet, what do your footprints look like? This in its simplest form will help you to identity the shape of your foot that requires shoe contact to the ground when exercising.
How do you know what features are most important for you? Let’s have a quick look over the most common foot types we see, and which features are most important for each.
Key features of foot: tendency to roll inwards when walking/running. Arch can be flatter or flexible meaning it may appear neutral but collapse inwards when weight-bearing.
Goal: motion control
Key shoe features: medial arch support, midfoot support, heel support
Shoe models recommended*: Asics GT-2000, Asics Gel Kayano (mild support), Brooks GTS Adrenaline, Brooks Ravenna (mild), New Balance 860, New Balance Vongo, Nike Structure
Key features of foot include natural resting arch, even weight bearing through gait cycle – no excessive rolling inwards or outwards
Goal: cushioning +/- stability
Shoe models recommended*: Asics Gel Nimbus, Brooks Glycerin, Brooks Ghost, New Balance 880, New Balance 1080, Nike Pegasus
Key features of foot include but not limited to high instep, rigid / high resting tone in arch and toes, tendency to strike outside of heel/midfoot with gait
Goal: cushioning +/- flexibility
Shoe models recommended*: Brooks Glycerin, Brooks Transcend, Brooks Ghost, New Balance 1080
*This is in no way an extensive list of all options available for each foot type, and it is still recommended to have an assessment with an expert to ensure comfort meets support where required.
Want to make sure your current runners fit okay? Give these tips below a try to identify if your current shoes are helping or hindering your foot health/comfort:
Do you have ½ a thumb nail length between your longest toe and the edge of the shoe when your weight is on your foot?
Is your foot sitting within the footbed of the shoe comfortable? Can your toes wriggle around easily?
Does the shape of your toes match the shape of the front of the shoe you are wearing?
Does your heel feel secure in the back of your shoe when you lift your heel off the ground?
Is there any areas of rubbing or pressure across your foot or toes?
Can you see the inside of the shoe when you are standing and look down, or do your ankles stop you from being able to see your shoe?
How often should I really need to replace them?
Did you know that running shoes are only designed to last between 800km– 1000km? Depending on how many k’s you’re covering per week will depend on how often you need to replace your shoes.
Even if you take extra good care of the outside of your shoes and think they’re in excellent condition past this point, the support structures within the shoes are only designed to withstand the above mileage.
What this means is that the interior scaffolding of the shoe is likely compressed past this and is no longer supporting your foot the way it should or originally did. The general rule of thumb if you’re moderately active, is to replace your runners at least once or twice annually to reduce risk of pain or injury.
Be mindful, there are a couple of other factors that can prematurely wear your running shoes out:
1) lifting heavy weights in your runners, as this compresses the cushion system making them compress quicker
2) if you like to wash your shoes in the washing machine, this accelerates the breakdown of the interior scaffolding of the shoe.
How can a health professional help you?
Having a health professional, such as a physiotherapist or podiatrist, assess your gait will help you select the best footwear for your needs. This includes:
Looking at how you’re walking/running through gait analyses
Assessing your ankle and foot flexibility
Assessing where exactly you need support to aid in lower limb alignment
Assessing the shape of your foot and where you tend to place pressure to prevent risk of blisters and calluses
Making sure you’re wearing the correct size and width for your foot
Exploring your medical history and identifying other risks of poorly fitting footwear, for example, diabetes and peripheral neuropathies
Exploring other factors that cause changes in feet, including pregnancy, age and injuries
In addition to the above, your physiotherapist will also assess the strength and capacity of both the muscles within the foot, arch and calf complex to provide you with some exercises that will enable you to continue to stay healthy, active and pain free.
What to bring to an assessment?
Be sure to bring your current pair of runners with you so your physiotherapist can assess the wear pattern on your shoes – this tells us a lot about your feet!
Wear comfy clothes, as we may do a walking or running assessment with you!
After all of that information, the biggest take home message: the most important feature of a runner is that they are COMFORTABLE for you. So, whilst the above information might be helpful in building your understanding of what to look for in a runner, it is still most important they feel comfortable for you for the type of activity you are performing.
The gold standard recommendation is still to seek professional advice for assessment and advice when looking to buy new runners. Having expert assessment and knowledge in the area will help guide you in the right direction for your perfect fit which will ultimately lead to your most comfortable fit. Advice can also be provided for foot and lower limb strengthening to aid in improved performance and reduced risk of injury.
Stay tuned for the next blog, where we will provide more footwear recommendations for summer shoes.
Images accessed via: http://images.google.com.au