Four Essential Keys To Athletic Shoe Fit

By Josh White, DPM, CPed

To determine a shoe’s stability, squeeze the sides of the heel counter, the rear part of the shoe. Stable shoes resist compression. Hold the shoe at the heel and at the toes, and twist. Torsionally stable shoes resist twisting whereas flexible shoes twist easily.

When it comes to neutral feet, bear in mind that the foot’s longitudinal arch helps absorb impact forces in the first half of the stance phase of gait from heel strike to the middle part of midstance. Later in the stride, the arch rises, helping the foot to push off and the body to move forward with an efficient, smooth gait. When the arch lowers after heel strike and rises during the propulsive phase of gait, the athlete has a
biomechanically efficient gait and the foot itself is described as “neutral.” When it comes to the walking and running of athletes with neutral feet contact on the lateral side of the heel, the foot rolls in toward the medial side and resupinates through propulsion. Old shoes generally reveal wear on the lateral side of the heel and even wear across the ball, sometimes continuing beneath the distal medial aspect.

“Neutral” athletic shoes are recommended for neutral feet. These shoes should be cushioned and flexible enough to allow the foot to progress naturally through the gait cycle without unnecessary correction. Neutral shoes lack extra pronation control devices, which could injure biomechanically efficient runners but should provide adequate torsional stability.

Most athletes demonstrate mild to moderate overpronation. Immediately after heel contact, the feet evert past perpendicular. This excessive motion creates strain and outweighs the shock absorption benefits of normal pronation. Athletes with low to normal arches who are mild to moderate overpronators need “stability” shoes that combine good support and midsole cushioning.

Athletic shoe manufacturers incorporate many features to support the medial aspect of the heel and prevent compression beneath the plantar medial aspect, which limits rearfoot pronation. In order to save weight, manufacturers sometimes cut out the middle part of the midsole and use plastic reinforcing — also known as a “stability web”— to restore torsional stability.

When There Is Severe Overpronation

Some runners demonstrate severe overpronation. After the lateral heel makes initial ground contact, the foot everts excessively, diminishing the natural shock absorption benefits of pronation. To compensate, the foot and ankle strain to stabilize joint motion. Athletes with this foot type find it hard to walk and run efficiently. They often tire easily and experience such conditions as heel spurs, bunions and knee pain.

Athletes with low arches who are moderate to severe overpronators need motion control shoes, which offer maximum rearfoot control and extra support on the medial side. Supportive features include aggressive stabilization and a wider base to provide support. The shoe may integrate a plastic or carbon graphite stabilization piece at the anteromedial aspect of the calcaneus. This shoe type also works well for larger athletes who need additional support and durability.

What About The Impact Of Supination?

In regard to supination or underpronation, athletes with rigid, normal to high arch feet with minimum pronation are generally well suited for running fast but possess limited shock absorption.

Usually midfoot or forefoot strikers, these runners are more susceptible to impact injuries like shin splints, stress fractures and Achilles tendinitis. Their feet demonstrate minimum pronation and generally lack ankle joint dorsiflexion. Neutral-cushioned shoes typically work best for such feet as they feature maximum midsole cushioning and minimum medial support.

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