Athletic Shoes

How to Find the Right Shoe for You


Women's Sports Medicine Center,
Hospital for Special Surgery

Check the shoe for stability.

1.  Grab the shoe at the ball and heel of the foot. Bend the shoe from front to back. The shoe should bend right near the ball of the foot, because that's the pivot point of your foot. If the shoe doesn't bend in the right place, is too soft or too stiff, it flunked test number one! (The only exception to this rule is if you’ve been prescribed more stiff-toed shoes to help with certain painful toe conditions, particularly arthritis at the big toe joint.)

2.  Holding the shoe in the same place, try to wring the shoe like a towel. You should see some movement, but if the shoe twists too easily, you won't have much support for lateral and twisting movements. This is particularly important in sports activities like basketball, tennis or aerobics.

3.  At the heel of the shoe, find the "heel counter". This is a stiff cup sewn into the back of the shoe to promote heel stability. Try to squeeze this cup into the shoe. It should be very stiff and not bend over.

Match the shoe to your foot shape.

Everyone's foot has a different shape. Athletic shoes are made with straight, semi-curved and curved soles or "lasts". A last is the design shape used to make the sole of a shoe. Putting a straight foot in a curved lasted shoe can cause excessive wear and a decrease in the control and support provided by the shoe.

What is your foot shape? Step on a paper towel when your foot is wet and take a look at the imprint. You'll probably see something like this:

Flat feet usually are associated with overpronation (excessive rolling inward) and can benefit from a "motion control" or "stability" shoe that is built on a straight-last. High arch feet can often be more rigid and benefit from a curved-lasted shoe with maximum cushioning and flexibility. High arch feet also usually benefit from athletic shoes with a little bit higher heel - not absolutely flat. Normal feet have a wide selection of shoes that will work for them.

Take a look at the soles of several athletic shoes and observe how each has a slightly different amount of curvature. The last shape should match your foot shape, regardless of whether you have a high, medium or low arch. A sportsmedicine specialist or podiatrist can recommend models, inserts or orthotics to fit your particular foot, especially when you fall outside the normal range. The American Association of Podiatric Sports Medicine maintains an updated list of recommended shoes for various foot types. This can be found at www.aapsm.org.

Tips for Trying on Shoes

  1. Try on athletic shoes at the end of the day when your foot may be slightly swollen. This will guarantee that the shoe fits well during physical activity when lots of blood flows to the feet.
  2. Look for about a thumb's width between your longest toe and the end of the shoe (1/4" to 1/2" of room between the inside of the toe box and your longest toe). The ball of your foot should match the widest part of the shoe. Even though the sides of your foot may be resting on the inside lining, you should still be able to wiggle or scrunch your foot without feeling constricted. If one foot is slightly longer then the other, always fit the longer foot. You can use inserts to improve the fit on the shorter shoe.
  3. Wear the same weight of socks that you intend to use during physical activity - not dress socks or nylons. Socks with a high cotton content cause blisters more easily. Select socks that are a polyester-acrylic blend.
  4. Athletic shoes should feel good right out of the box. Don't let a salesperson tell you to "break them in".
  5. Place the shoes on a counter side by side and make sure both shoes stand level. Workmanship flaws which put a shoe out of balance increase your injury risk and lead to premature shoe breakdown.
  6. Make sure you try on both shoes in the pair and give them a "test drive" on a hard surface, not a carpeted floor. Run, jump or perform other movements that represent your sports activity. If you’re deciding between two pairs of shoes, wear one on each foot and move around to compare the feel.
  7. If you are going to engage in an activity 2-3 or more times each week for 30-60 minutes, buy athletic shoes specifically designed for that type of exercise. Jogging shoes can be used for walking, but walking shoes should not  be used for jogging. Cross-training shoes work well if you're doing a variety of activities.

 


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