Did you know Josh trained as a Podiatrist before becoming a Physio?
Here are his expert tips on choosing your running footwear:
As Physiotherapists we are asked for advice on appropriate running footwear several times each day. Footwear companies often make exaggerated and misleading claims about the wondrous properties of their shoes, which can make it difficult to determine what type of running shoe is right for you.
In recent times ‘Barefoot’ or ‘Free’ running has gained popularity. Advocates will argue that because cavemen would have run barefoot this is a more natural way for our body to function when moving, and is more in line evolutionarily with how our foot and ankle are meant to be used.
The reality for present day adults is that a good degree of conditioning and adaptation is necessary for our bodies get used to running without footwear. Cavemen didn’t have to contend with surfaces such as hard bitumen or concrete. The right shoes play a critical role in reducing the shock caused to our bodies by these surfaces.
Numerous studies have demonstrated a marked change in loading patterns (how weight and pressure are distributed) through the feet and legs during running with and without shoes. Rapid change in any exercise training does not allow our bodies enough time to adapt, and adaptation is important for injury prevention. If you wish to trial barefoot running it should be a transition that is quite structured and measured so as to minimise the associated risk of injury. As this is a complicated process, it is best to seek the advice of a trained practitioner with specific knowledge and understanding of the biomechanics of running.
At the other end of the scale to bare feet, is footwear that does not permit normal functioning of the foot. Our feet and ankles are intricate in their design and function very well in normal situations to assist smooth and strain free patterns of movement through the body. Footwear that is rigid and does not accommodate foot motion can have equally detrimental effects to running without shoes.
So what does this all mean?
The long and short of this, if you’ll pardon the pun, is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting footwear. We each have distinctive running patterns and anatomical variations of the foot and ankle that mean we each need shoes with different features.
It is hard to know where to start with such a vast array of options available. When you walk into your local shoe store, even the staff may have little idea as to the features of each shoe, which is not to denigrate them, but shows how complex the technical components of shoe design and manufacture are.
Reputable brands and stores will have various styles with different features to enable selection of footwear that is appropriate to your own foot type and biomechanics. Remember that cost does not always equate with quality; the most expensive shoe may not work well for you personally. It is much more important that you have a shoe suitable to your foot type and your running regime than it is to spend a lot of money.
There are some common mistakes made when it comes to choosing running shoes.
Always measure shoe size while standing, and allow approximately the width of your thumbnail from your longest toe (which for some people is the second toe, not the big toe) to the end of the shoe. This allows for expansion of the foot during exercise, which is especially important in warmer weather. The width of the shoe is equally important. A good guide is to pinch the top of the shoe over the widest part of your foot. A small amount of the material should bunch between your index finger and thumb. A sign that the shoe is too big is that your whole foot will feel like it slides back and forth in the shoe.
If you wear orthotics, always ensure you wear them when fitting new shoes. You may find you need to go up a full size to accommodate the orthotic device.
Make sure the heel counter, the stiff part at the back of the shoe that covers your heel, is deep enough. If your heel feels like it loses contact with the sole of the shoe when you walk you may need to adjust the arrangement of the lacing of the shoe, or failing that, choose a different style of shoe that offers more depth. This is very important because the position of the back of your foot influences how well the front of your foot functions. Particularly with shoes that have in-built rear-foot control features, such as running shoes, it is essential that the heel sits right on the insole and snugly against the back of the shoe
Lastly, select a shoe that allows your mid-foot and fore-foot to move easily. To check this pick up the shoe with one hand cupping the heel, and the other cupping the toes. Twist the shoe gently between both hands. The first two-thirds of the shoe should twist under pressure and the heel should stay relatively stiff. The flex point of the shoe, where it bends most easily, should be where the ball of your foot would be, ideally around the first third of the shoe. It’s best to avoid shoes that bend in half, as your foot does not bend naturally at this point.
I hope this has provided some food for thought when it comes to running and footwear. Remember there can be a large degree of trial and error when choosing footwear, but a good retailer will have a more in-depth understanding of appropriate shoe types for you, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and do your homework.
M Physiotherapy (GE), B. Podiatry