Start with Your Foot Type
Choosing a running shoe becomes a lot easier if you know what type of foot you have. To determine your foot type – try the wet foot test. This can be done a number of ways. The most exotic and expensive way to figure this out is by flying to your favourite tropical beach and walking barefoot on the wet sand. Look at your foot imprint. Does it look really full as in #2 below? Is it skinny and narrow looking like #3 or somewhere in between like #1?
A cheaper and less glamorous test would be to place a piece of paper on the floor – dip your foot into a bathtub on step down on the paper. The best way to figure this out is to schedule a gait analysis with a professional who can also determine if corrective devices such as orthotics may be of benefit.
Regardless of how you figure out your foot type you should generally fall within one of the following three descriptions:
The style of foot will generally follow proper biomechanics. As the foot hits the ground it lands on the outside of the heel (supination) and then rolls inward slightly (pronation). The pronation movement helps to absorb shock.
Shoe Choice? Stability shoe with minimal to no motion control.
2. Low Arch (Pes Planus aka Flat foot)
This is the most common type of foot I see in clinical practice due to faulty biomechanics resulting in overpronation (excessive inward rolling). This overpronation can lead to a number of issues including shin splints, knee pain, bunions, and hallux valgus (outward movement of the big toe). Having a flat foot can also lead to plantar fasciitis and metatarsalgia (pain in the ball of the foot).
If you fall in this category it is highly recommended you have your feet assessed by a professional to see if you may benefit from custom foot orthotics.
Shoe Choice? If you don’t have orthotics to help support your fallen arch you will want to find a shoe that has motion control/stability.
3. High Arch (Pes Cavus)
The high arched foot is less common. Generally the most common bio-mechanical fault with a high arch is oversupination (rolling outward of the foot). Usually lacking in pronation (shock absorption) these feet are exposed to higher levels of forces.
Excessive forces may also increase your risk of a stress fracture. Sprained ankles may be more common with this foot type with the rolling outward motion. As with the flat foot the high arch can also have plantar fascia and metatarsalgia.
Shoe Choice? Ample cushioning, minimum to no control/stability (neutral) and flexible to encourage motion of the foot.
There are obviously other factors that can influence your choice in addition to the above. For instance – although I wear orthotics due to flat feet and overpronation I buy the best cushioning shoes I can find (Asics Gel Nimbus). This extra cushioning helps reduce wear and tear on my knee joint (I’ve had two surgeries to remove torn cartilage). Another reason to get assessed by a professional is your feet may not always be symmetrical. Although they may look like the same foot type one may behave differently bio-mechanically.
What if I wear custom made orthotics?
In this instance you should buy a running shoe that is neutral to minimum motion control as the orthotics are already correcting your faulty foot mechanics. If I, as an overpronator, bought a heavy motion control shoe and popped in my custom foot orthotics I would be over-correcting the problem which would lead to more harm than good.
What about barefoot running or barefoot type running shoes?
I plan on writing an entire post devoted to this topic but for now I will just say if your biomechanics are perfect and you do trail running and not concrete/asphalt running give it a try if you are so inclined. This would, however, be a very small percentage of the running population.
Choose the right shoe for your foot type and you’ll be less likely to run into foot pain.