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Selecting The Right Running Shoe

Because running puts a lot of stress on the feet and body, selecting the right athletic shoe is extremely important.

by Verle Valentine, MD, Sanford Clinic Orthopedics & Sports Medicine

Because running puts a lot of stress on the feet and body, selecting the right athletic shoe is extremely important. Many common overuse injuries are related to improper shoes. Finding a shoe that offers the cushioning and stability your running style and foot shape demand will not only improve performance, it can help prevent injuries.

Understanding Pronation
Pronation is the rotation of the foot inward when you land on the ground. It is a normal process that helps absorb the shock of impact. Every runner pronates to a certain extent, but it can become a problem when it is excessive. When the feet roll too far inward, it is called overpronation. This can lead to common overuse injuries such as shin splints or knee pain. A less common problem is underpronation. This occurs when the feet do not roll inward much at all. Underpronation can lead to stress fractures, heel pain and knee pain and other injuries because the foot does not absorb impact well. Most runners fall between these two extremes. This is called normal pronation.

Know Your Foot Type
Your foot type is determined by arch height. People generally have normal, low or high arches. Arch height is one of the factors that affect pronation.

  • The Normal Arch = Normal Pronation Feet with average arch height leave an imprint where the arch flattens out, and there is a slight flare.
  • The Low Arch = Overpronation Feet with low arches leave an almost complete imprint with just a slight curve at the arch.
  • The High Arch = Underpronation High-arched feet are generally more inflexible, so the arch doesn’t flatten out, leaving an imprint with a very narrow band connecting the forefront and heel.

Use what is known as the “wet test” to determine your arch height. Wet your feet, and then step on a surface such as a dark piece of cardboard or a sidewalk. Examine your footprint, use the information above to establish your arch height.

A Shoe’s Anatomy
The most important characteristic of a shoe is its shape. Running shoes generally come in three shapes: curved, semi-cured and straight. A shoe’s shape can be observed by looking at the bottom of the shoe. Another important part of the shoe is its last, or the form around which the show is built. There are two main types of lasts: slip and board. To check a shoe’s last, look inside the shoe under the insole. A shoe stitched down the middle is probably a slip lasted shoe. These shoes are typically lighter weight and more flexible. If a shoe is stitched around the border, it is likely a board lasted shoe. This type of shoe is heavier, more stable and best suited for controlling pronation. Some shoes use both slip and board lasts. These shoes provide balance in weight, flexibility and pronation control.

Selecting the Right Shoe
Follow these guidelines to select the best shoe for your foot shape and level of pronation: 

  • Normal Pronation = Stability 
    Shape:  Semi-curved 
    Last:  Combination 
    Stability:  Look for features like a medial post (stiff material on the inner side of shoe) that help reduce overpronation
  • Overpronation = Motion Controlled
    Shape: Straight 
    Last: Board 
    Stability: Medial post, firm heel counter 
  • Underpronation = Cushioned 
    Shape: Curved 
    Last: Slip 
    Stability: No additional support needed

Tips for Finding the Right Running Shoes
Determine your shoe size. Athletic shoe sizes can vary. It’s always a good idea to have your foot measured since the shape of your foot changes over time, which can affect your shoe size. Get a comfortable fit. Shoes should fit firmly in the heel to prevent slippage, but your toes should also have plenty of room to move. You should have enough space for the width of a finger (about 1/4th inch) to fit from the end of your longest toe (not necessarily your biggest toe) to the end of the shoe.

Also, when buying shoes, bring the socks you plan to run in to get the best fit. Give shoes a test run. Don’t rush through the buying process. Spend 30-60 minutes trying on different shoes, and jog around the store wearing each pair for comparison. Try shoe shopping at a specialty running or fitness store. Employees at specialty shops are often runners themselves and can offer good advice for picking out the right shoe. Don’t overuse your running shoes, buy new running shoes every six months or every 450-500 miles. 


Sanford Clinic Orthopedics & Sports Medicine
Van Demark Building
1210 W. 18th Street, Suite G01
Sioux Falls, SD (605) 328-BONE (2663)

Sanford Clinic Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Walk-In Clinic
(No Appointments Necessary)
Monday – Friday 8 am – 4:30 pm