Which is the right athletic shoe for me?

This is a very frequent question asked in the office and the short answer is: it depends. There are many different foot types and shoe selection is based on this as well as other factors including the shape of the leg, positioning and flexibility of the knee and hip. The mechanics of the human foot are very complex and over a century of research has been conducted to better understand its motions and correct problems. There are three main foot types: flat arch (planus), average arch (rectus) and high arch (cavus), but within this category there are many subtypes and each has distinct features.

To begin with most shoes on their own are inadequate to support most people’s feet. Even a very good athletic shoe is a blank on the inside, similar to a pair of glasses without a prescription in the lenses. Most quality shoe manufacturers do this on purpose in anticipation of a person having an insole that matches their proper foot type. Shoes in their construction, in particular athletic shoes, do have some built in systems to help assist the foot in proper function.

Most quality athletic shoes have three basic soles which mirror the three main foot types. Pronation control shoes target the improper mechanics associated with a flat arch and try to help keep the arch up during walking or running. A neutral shoe is one that purposely does not assist in arch function and is for those with a average arch. A supination control shoe is for those with high arches and is the opposite in its function to the pronation control shoe. Selecting the incorrect type of shoe for your foot type can lead to a lot of pain and future foot issues.

Selecting the proper category of shoe is also important and the right choice depends on your desired activities. There are hundreds of different categories of shoes from running to walking, cross trainer to stability. Each shoe manufacturer has different guidelines for determining how their shoes fit into each of these categories. In general, a running shoe works very well for nearly all activities. There are millions of dollars invested in research with running shoes and they are usually of the highest quality, although the rule is not always true that you get what you pay for.

In many cases athletic shoes are designed for fashion over function and can cost hundreds of dollars despite not being well made for a person’s feet. There are many features of shoes made for fashion that make them difficult to wear and can lead to pain. The first is the toe box, which can be very narrow in many cases and on the outside (the side by the baby toe) there is often a taper that presses on the toe. Those with hammertoes often have great difficulty wearing closed toed shoes as a result of a tight toe box or a dramatic taper. The shank (or midsole) is very weak in minimalist shoes, which are light weight and very popular currently. The loss of stability in the shank can lead to arch pain in those with flexible arches or flat arches.

The most important features a quality athletic shoe provides are shock absorption and and assistance in proper transition of weight from the heel to the ball of the foot. Many of the current trends in athletic shoes is to go away from these two features in order to provide a minimalist, or very lightweight shoe. When shock absorption and proper transition are lost from the shoe, the foot and leg must take the increased force, which can lead to shin splints, foot, ankle, knee, hip and back pain.

No matter what type of athletic shoe is right for you, they are just the starting point. A quality insole (whether prefabricated or custom) that matches your foot type is key to proper mechanics of the foot, preventing pain and other foot issues. The doctors at Advanced Foot and Ankle have significant training and experience in all aspects of foot and ankle care and can help you find the right shoe and insole for your particular foot type. Many quality athletic shoes are available in our FOOT STORE to meet your needs including our new addition of Brooks® shoe line, Aetrex® shoe line and the Spira® shoe line. Stop in to the FOOT STORE to try some on or call to make an appointment for evaluation by one of our Podiatrists.


Eric M. Silvers, DPM
Dustin M. Lloyd, DPM

Christopher S. WItt, DPM