These days, you walk into a running store looking for new shoes and there are way too many choices...how do you even begin to find the right shoe? First things first, there are lots of flashy shoes out there, but don’t select your running shoe based on the color. Types of shoes are based on the support that is needed in the foot of each person. The spectrum of sneakers ranges from motion control (most supportive) to minimalist (no support or cushioning). The type of shoe is different from the BRAND of the shoe. The top brands Runner’s World Magazine recommends are Brooks, New Balance, Mizuno, Saucony and Asics, but each of those brands manufacture different types of shoes for each foot type. Runner’s World has a helpful tool to find the right shoe for you at http://www.runnersworld.com/shoeadvisor.
The most supportive type of shoe is motion control, and created for the person with very flat feet who overpronates. Do you notice when you run if it feels like your feet just slap down each step with no control? The sole of the shoe should be a straight line (all those ridges and lines on the bottom of a shoe are functional and not just fashionable!). Looking at the inner side of the shoe, the foam layer will be thick and you should see two to three colors of the material (usually shades of white/gray), indicating there are different densities where you need more or less support. It will be a heavier shoe because of the necessary buildup for support that is all directed at locking your heel in place to provide less wiggle room in the shoe. Stability shoes are similar but to a lesser degree. You may have semi flat feet or a little lack of control of the foot when you run, but nothing extreme.
If you do not overpronate or if you have high, rigid arches, you should look for a neutral or cushioning shoe. The bottom of these shoes should have a line from the base of the heel that starts straight then curves toward your big toe. It will be a less bulky shoe compared to the stability or motion control models. Rather than a multi-colored foam on the inside arch, in a neutral shoe you should look for air or gel pockets or shocks that will provide cushioning and shock absorption mostly in the heel.
Another shoe type is minimalist, and it’s rising in popularity. I recommend this only for a neutral foot type because it has no midsole for either cushioning or support. It requires you to run on the middle of your foot and not hit first with the heel, since there is no cushioning in the heel like other shoes. The belief is that without the artificial support that traditional sneakers provide, the small foot muscles will not get too weak and that your running stride will be more natural without such a hard initial heel strike. Some foot types will not tolerate the minimalist shoe at all and could be equally detrimental if you pronate or supinate excessively. It is very important that if you start using minimalist shoes that you gradually build up your training all over again. Since it requires a change in running technique, I recommend your first run be no more than 10 minutes and gradually build up as tolerated. The benefits are that without the cushioning or support, the shoe is much lighter in weight and may be the weight a person needs for higher performance speed and achievement. Be careful with how you train and be sure that your foot is appropriate for a minimalist shoe before trying this shoe type.
See if these guidelines help you next time you are shoe shopping, and if you’re not sure, any of our physical therapists at Newton-Wellesley Hospital can analyze your gait and advise further. Happy running!