by Rick Alan
Some sports, like football and hockey, require players to wear specialized equipment. Others, such as long distance running, require very little equipment to participate. But with few exceptions, sports will require some type of footwear.
First things first. Do you need new shoes? There is an easy way to see if your shoes need to be replaced.
Once you have bought a pair of athletic shoes, how long should it be before you replace them? Many people wait until the soles of the shoes wear out before buying a new pair, but that is not a good idea. Very often, the shock absorption of running shoes or the lateral stability of cross-training and sport-specific shoes will wear out long before the soles do.
In general, you should replace athletic shoes every 350-550 miles. You also need to consider other factors, like your activity, body weight, and the type of surface you exercise on. Keep in mind that it is better to use mileage as a guide regardless of the condition of the tread. A good way to estimate how much mileage should be put on your shoes is to take 75,000 and divide it by your current weight.
Outside of mileage, are you still unsure if your shoes need to be replaced? There is an easy, visual check that you can do. Place the shoe on a flat surface, if you notice any unevenness, that is a good indication that it is time to replace the shoe. Also, look for other signs of wear, like creasing.
If you are ready for a new pair, take a moment to think about how you use your shoes, and what you want to get out of them.
You may feel that you need a different type of shoe for each athletic activity you participate in. But is this true? Generally, no.
Unless you regularly participate in a specific sport—at least 2-3 times per week—a good cross-training shoe is usually sufficient. There are, of course, exceptions. For example, you are much better off playing football and baseball in cleats. And regular running definitely requires a specific type of shoe.
Though shoe manufacturers hype the special features of each shoe they make, sports shoes can be divided into two general categories.
If you are a walker, should you buy walking shoes instead of running shoes? No need. Despite being called walking shoes, most are designed like cross-training shoes, offering lateral support while skimping on bottom padding and heel elevation. So if you walk a lot, you may actually be better off wearing a good pair of running shoes with their support for continuous forward motion and pounding.
Fitting a shoe is a very individual process. Factors like gait, biomechanics, weight, and foot shape are highly unique. The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine recommends finding a reputable footwear retailer for proper fit and a sports medicine podiatrist for concerns about injury or footwear. If you need a specific shoe for a specific activity, here are some additional tips:
With all athletic shoes, and especially with running shoes, be certain there is at least a thumb's width from the tip of your longest toe to the front of the shoe while you are standing up.
While you should never buy athletic shoes that are uncomfortable in the store, all shoes have to be broken in to accommodate the specific shape of your feet. Therefore, never run a marathon in new running shoes. Along the same line, you should not wear new cross-training or sport-specific shoes during an entire game until you have worn them a number of times in practice.
What should you do if you have feet that are extremely difficult to fit?
Start by seeing a podiatrist to make sure there is no serious underlying problem. If there is not, a custom made orthotic (a support made of plastic, polyurethane, or other material that can be easily molded to the shape of your feet) worn inside your shoes may prove helpful. If you have extremely wide or narrow feet, consider athletic shoes from a company that manufactures athletic shoes in a large range of widths. Or, for more difficult problems—such as misshapen or extremely sensitive feet or major differences between the size of the left and right foot—consider custom-made athletic shoes.
Now you are ready for the store. Keep in mind that you should not be swayed by the price tag. The most expensive is not always the best. Ultimately, getting the right shoe with the right fit is what you want.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine
Health Canada Physical Activity
Public Health Agency of Canada
Athletic Shoes. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons OrthoInfo website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00318. Updated August 2012. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Athletic shoes. Dr. Stephen M. Pribut's Sport Pages website. Available at: http://www.drpribut.com/sports/spshoe.html. Updated December 9, 2012. Accessed December 9, 2012.
Criteria for AAPSM athletic shoe recommendation list. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.aapsm.org/crishoe.html. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Fitness Begins with Feet. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.aapsm.org/footwear-begins-feet.html. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Selecting a Running Shoe. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.aapsm.org/selectingshoes.html. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Selecting and Effectively Using Running Shoes. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.or.... Accessed December 7, 2012.
Shoes: Finding the Right Fit. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons OrthoInfo website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00143. Updated August 2012. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Last reviewed December 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 12/9/2012