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10 Tips for Choosing Athletic Shoes

Proper-fitting shoes make all the difference whether you walk or run.
By Christina Frank
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Running and walking are among the purest, most natural forms of exercise around. With newfangled innovations like Freon-filled midsoles and pump-it-up tongues, it's knowing which shoes to buy that seems to require an advanced degree.

Choose the wrong athletic shoes and you could end up lying on the couch nursing shin splints or aching heels instead of enjoying a brisk walk or run.

While most specialty sport-shoe stores have knowledgeable staff to guide you, you'll be a few steps ahead of the game armed with some basic knowledge about your feet and their specific needs. Here is some expert advice to heed before buying new footwear:

Don't make shoes multitask. Walking shoes are stiffer; running shoes are more flexible, with extra cushioning to handle greater impact. If you do both activities, get a pair for each one.

Know your foot. Sure, we've all got 10 toes and two heels, but beyond that, feet come in a variety of shapes -- and knowing your foot's particular quirks is key to selecting the right pair of shoes. Most major brands now offer a model to suit every foot type.

One way to determine your foot's shape is to do a "wet test"--- wet your foot, step on a piece of brown paper and trace your footprint. Or just look at where your last pair of shoes shows the most wear.

If your footprint shows the entire sole of your foot with little to no curve on the inside -- or if your shoes show the most wear on the inside edge -- it means you've got low arches or flat feet and tend toward overpronation -- meaning your feet roll inward. Overpronation can create extra wear on the outside heel and inside forefoot. You'll want a shoe with a motion-control feature and maximum support.

If the footprint shows only a portion of your forefoot and heel with a narrow connection between the two -- or if your shoes wear out mostly on the outside edge -- you have high arches and tend to underpronate (also called supinate), meaning your feet roll outward. Underpronation causes wear on the outer edge of the heel and the little toe. Look for a cushioned shoe with a soft midsole.

You have a neutral arch if your footprint has a distinct curve along the inside and your shoes wear out uniformly. Look for a "stability" shoe, which has the right mix of cushioning and support.

Feet Change

Measure your foot frequently. "It's a myth that foot size doesn't change in adults," says Steven Raiken, MD. "It does change as we get older, so have your feet measured twice a year. Sizes also vary between brands, so go by what fits, not by what size the shoe is." Raiken is director of the foot and ankle service at the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

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