Proper shoes key to make most of running, walking

Cleveland Clinic expert offers tips for picking proper fitness footwear

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. - When Teree Harrison decided to start actively walking last year, she was focused on her waistline, not her footwear.

"I never used to think about it. If I found a pair of shoes that fit, I bought them. Usually they were men's shoes because my feet are big, so I had to go into the men's sizes, and then they were too wide, so my foot would move around a lot in them," Harrison said.

As a result, she suffered a stress fracture.

"This is not unusual. I see a lot of this kind of injury from wearing the wrong shoes," said Cleveland Clinic podiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Scheiber.

Scheiber also sees patients with black and blue toenails from wearing shoes that are too big or too small.

She said getting the proper fit means being measured every time you shop for shoes.

"What you should do is go into a reputable sneaker store initially so they can watch your gait, how you're walking up and down, and they have to notice how long your foot is down on the ground," she said.

For feet that tend to pronate, or turn in, and for people with flat feet, Scheiber said look for a shoe with motion control, which will have a lot of padding in the arch.

Those with a high arch, who tend to walk on the outside edges of their feet, should look for a shoe with lateral buttressing to keep the foot from rolling out.

When the shoe is on your foot, Scheiber said make sure there's a full thumb space between the end of the big toe and the end of the shoe.

"The number of the shoe size does not matter; it's how it fits you and how it feels," she said.

If you're walking or running several miles a week, Scheiber said it's important to replace your shoes every six to nine months.

"Down in Florida, sneakers are going to lose their ability to absorb shock because of the humidity, and people don't realize that," she said.

Now that she's wearing the right shoe, Harrison is able to walk without hurting herself.

"I don't have to think about my feet at all," she said.

When it comes to cost, Scheiber said price does matter to some extent. 

Well-constructed shoes will typically cost between $80 and $130.

"People should avoid shoes with air bubbles or gel bubbles in them. They don't wear evenly, and that can lead to injury," said Scheiber.

She added that over-the-counter gel inserts are fine for adding comfort but won't do anything for proper support.

"If you have an anatomical issue with your foot, you're going to need a custom-made orthotic," she said.

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