Runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, early-onset arthritis — the wrong athletic shoes can cause you more than just discomfort. “But the right shoes, designed to compensate for the impact of your feet during sports, can prevent injuries and improve structural alignment and performance,” says Amol Saxena, M.D., a podiatrist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Know Your Foot Type
To help choose the right shoes for you, determine your foot type. Have a podiatrist examine you, or get an idea yourself by looking at the soles of a pair of worn-in shoes. "The wear patterns show where you're putting pressure when you walk," Dr. Saxena says. If your shoes have:
- Top Outer Edge Worn - You're a supinator (or underpronator). Supinators' feet tend to have high arches and roll outward. You need: cushioning (also referred to, confusingly, as neutral) athletic shoes for shock absorption.
- Evenly Worn - You're neutral and have an average gait with equal weight distribution across the foot. You need: stability or moderate-stability sneakers, which offer a balance of cushioning and support.
- Top Inner Edge Worn - You're a pronator, which means your feet roll inward. Flat arches or low arches are common. You need: motion-control or high-stability sneakers to keep your feet better aligned with your legs.
If You're a Supinator...
Look for: Soft midsoles (the layer between the mesh upper and the treads), since this type of foot doesn't provide enough shock absorption on its own. That means the shoes’ soles will tend to be more flexible. You can also usually spot them by the shape of the sole: "A cushioned shoe cuts in at the arch, resembling a kidney bean," Dr. Saxena says.
If You're Neutral...
Look for: Cushioning with a good dose of stability—in other words, a lightweight shoe that bends just to the ball of the foot. That said, "in many cases, this foot type has the most freedom and can wear whichever sneakers feel best at the store," Dr. Saxena says.
If You're a Pronator...
Look for: Shoes that are a contrasting color (often gray) near the arch. This indicates the presence of a dense material that provides reinforcement to keep the arches from collapsing. The shoes tend to be fairly stiff and will flex only near the toe area. The added support can sometimes give these sneakers a boxy appearance.
While it’s important to consider your foot type, it’s just as essential to consider how shoes feel. In fact, a 2015 study found that military personnel who chose athletic shoe inserts based on comfort alone reduced their risk of injury.
"Try on four to five different pairs of shoes, and be sure to jog around the store or walk briskly in each one," Dr. Saxena recommends. "The one that feels the best is likely the best shoe for you."