Spinal discomfort or pain can often limit or completely stop a person from continuing his or her previous exercise routine. But an active lifestyle is a key piece of long-term health, and also important to the quality of life for many. Spinal problems should not be ignored and advances in treatment approaches and technology now allow people to get back to active lifestyles, after both surgical and non- surgical treatments. Running shoes have come a long way. Gone are the days of sore arches, beat up toes, and persistent blisters. From advanced cushioning to motion control technology, there is a shoe out there for everyone. Running shoes are designed to accommodate a wide variety of foot shapes, body types, and bio mechanical inefficiencies. The challenge is matching the right shoe to each person. Here are five tips to finding the perfect running shoe.
It’s not a cliche. Buy the right size. Be aware that an athletic shoe is typically cut shorter than a leather dress shoe, so shoe size typically increases up .5 to 1.0 full sizes just in that conversion. But beyond that standard conversion, a person’s size may need to increase further because you need room for your feet to swell during exercise (and the longer the duration of your planned activity, the more chance for this swelling, so it becomes even more important for someone training for an endurance event.) If the feet do not have room to swell, the chance of blisters, calluses, black toenails, and other nuisance problems increases. More importantly, if shoes are too tight and the forefoot bones (metatarsals) don’t have room to expand as the foot strikes, the body cannot absorb shock correctly and you become at risk for many more significant injuries to weak areas in the skeletal and muscular systems, including the back and spine. 1. SIZE MATTERS
When trying on shoes, be aware of “first feel” of the foot in the shoe. If you can feel your toe hitting the front end or top, it is too small. If you can wiggle your toes freely, that is a good sign. If your heel slides out of the back or your foot slides side to side in the shoe, it is too big or not cut correctly. Also, many people have feet of slightly different lengths — always fit to the larger foot, even though the smaller one may have to adjust to the feeling of extra space. A running shoe should fit very comfortably from the first time it is tried. That is not to say there isn’t a “break-in” period. Ease into a new shoe, especially a new model. For runners, spend some time first walking in the shoes, and then take a few short runs before a longer run. The body needs to adjust to the new shoe and let some of the flex points in the midsole and upper begin bending where the foot bends. If at all possible, don’t wear a brand new shoe for a long run on the first day out! Try the shoes out on a treadmill for a few miles before going out for a longer run — that way if you have a problem, you can address it before you find yourself a long way from home.
The average men’s shoe is a D width and women’s width is a B width. Some models labeled as a standard width are actually cut a little narrower or wider, and can be a good choice for someone with a slightly wider or narrower foot. If your foot is significantly wider or narrower than average, you may consider styles available in widths. Most all the major running shoe brands make some of their shoes in wide and narrow. While most stores do not carry all styles in all widths, typically there should be something that gives you a good fit. 2. WIDTH MATTERS, TOO
The type of shoe you should look for is best determined by knowing your biomechanics. Pronation is the natural way the foot moves as it goes through the process of striking the ground, transferring force forward, and toeing off for the next step. Over-pronation occurs when this movement is exaggerated, and can be a contributor to some injuries in certain individuals. Arch height and flexibility can be a factor in over-pronation. Over-pronators typically feel most comfortable in a stability style shoe which accommodates their more flexible (and sometimes lower) arches and yields additional control. Excessive over- pronators often find a motion-control or extra stable model is likely the correct shoe type. Those with relatively “normal” pronation may be most comfortable in a neutral shoe with good cushioning. A very small percentage of the population actually under-pronates, or supinates. These individuals typically also look to a neutral shoe but may need extra cushioning throughout the midsole. 3. BASIC BIOMECHANICS ARE IMPORTANT
Running in minimalist shoes gained popularity over the past ten years. A “minimal” shoe is one that tries to approximate barefoot running as much as possible, and is often engineered with a low heel-toe drop (drop is the difference between the height of the back of the shoe and the front) and reduced cushioning. While a minimal shoe has a purpose for some runners, (particularly more competitive ones who may wear different shoes for different types of training and racing) many others aren’t prepared or conditioned to exercise in this type of footwear. As with most things in life, “one size” doesn’t fit all. Someone who decides to move toward a minimalist shoe should do so gradually to make sure his/her body reacts favorably to the changes inherent with these types of shoes. 4. MINIMAL VS. MAXIMAL
Others want a lot of cushioning on their minimalist shoes, meaning they aren’t minimal at all, but actually “maximalist”. Maximalist models share some features of minimalist footwear like the lower drop, but add cushioning features to reduce the amount of force passing from the ground to the body. Both ends of this spectrum have a loyal following and can be useful tools for runners and walkers to employ for different activities.
Shop by running shoe type, not brand. Running shoes are like cars — there are many major manufacturers, each of whom makes shoes in different categories designed to fit and appeal to different customers. If you know what type of shoe works best for you, know your biomechanics, and know the features of your foot (width, volume, etc.) then you may find yourself regularly returning to a particular style or brand. If you don’t know what you like, if your shoe of choice has recently changed, or if you have had other changes (pregnancy, introduction of a new type of training, injury, etc.) you will want to keep an open mind and revisit your biomechanics before selecting a shoe. Have a gait analysis to determine the right category of shoe for you (e.g., motion control, stability or neutral). Then consider the various options in that category. Try not to be predisposed against a particular brand because of a bad experience you had in the past — “I got a stress fracture wearing Brand X…. I’ll never wear those shoes again.” It may be that the category of shoe was wrong, in which case any brand’s offering in that category would have caused you similar problems. 5. BRAND DOES NOT MATTER
There are literally hundreds of running and walking shoes on the market. Ultimately, the “right shoe for your back” is one that allows you to stay healthy while maintaining a consistent exercise routine and in the process develop proper running form. Running or walking with proper biomechanics takes the stress off of all parts of your body including your back, and having the right shoes helps facilitate good form. High cushion or moderate cushion shoes? Traditional or low drop foot- beds? Regular or wide widths? All questions that can be answered with the help of educated staff at a running specialty store.