Editor’s note: Before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you feel pain.
Not so long ago, people owned a generic pair of athletic shoes, which they used for all sports and activities. Those days are long gone. Sports shoes are a $16 billion in business in the United States today. This number should grow fast over the next few years as Americans buy multiple pairs of athletic shoes designed for different activities. But is it really necessary to have a closet full of sneakers, or is it just marketing hype?
“All activities and sports require care in choosing specific footwear,” said Dr. Bradley Schaeffer, a chiropodist and foot and ankle surgeon at Sole Podiatry in New York City. “You need to provide proper support to avoid creating or aggravating conditions such as bunions, hammer toes, plantar fasciitis, and ingrown toenails.”
Working out in proper footwear also helps prevent overuse injuries, said Dr. Nelya Lobkova, surgical podiatrist at Step Up Footcare in New York City. “This is especially important for the beginner or average participant, who is more prone to poor form.”
Sports shoes can also improve your athletic performance because they are designed to provide the right support and stability for a particular activity, such as running. Since running involves repetitive forward motion, a good running shoe will be lightweight with a flexible outsole, which helps keep the foot moving while absorbing the impact of the foot hitting the ground.
Hiking shoes, on the other hand, have deeper treads than running shoes to increase traction on uneven and natural surfaces, and they often feature a higher upper to provide ankle stability. Volleyball shoes, like many court shoes, provide support for movement in all directions, as well as cushioning for the jumps that often occur.
But don’t throw away your sneakers just yet. You only need to buy sport-specific shoes if you participate in a given activity more than twice a week, depending on the American Podiatric Medical Association. And lacing up a pair of cross-trainers can work really well if your weekly workout schedule involves several different activities, says the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Running, basketball, volleyball, hiking and tennis are some of the activities where having a sport-specific shoe is essential, especially if you are a more serious athlete who wants maximize its performance, said Dr. Damian Roussel, podiatrist. and foot and ankle surgeon with The Centers for Advanced Orthopedics in Frederick, Maryland.
But with so many brands on the market, how do you know which is the best shoe for you? Generally, this is the one that best fits your uniquely shaped foot. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t very good at determining the right fit.
According to a Meta-analysis 2018 published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research. The study review also found evidence that ill-fitting shoes can cause foot pain and conditions such as corns, calluses and deformities.
Since sports shoes can only do their job if they fit properly, determining the right size for your feet is crucial. Do this, AAOS experts recommend shopping at a store that specializes in your sport and seeking assistance from a qualified employee. It’s also important to shop after a workout or at the end of the day when your feet are a bit swollen.
Be sure to try on both the right shoe and the left shoe, wearing the socks you normally use for this sport. The heel counter should hold your heel in place so there is no slippage, and there should be at least a half-inch (1.27 centimeters) of space between your longest toe and the tip of the shoe. You should also be able to easily wiggle your toes in the toe box. they should never feel coerced.
“Good toe room, ill-fitting shoes, and constricted shoes cause a lot of issues that I see in my practice,” Schaeffer said.
Whatever you do, don’t buy a pair of shoes that don’t fit, thinking you might break them over time. You can not.
Once you’ve identified the right pair of shoes for your feet and brought them home, watch for signs of wear over time. Because if you use sports shoes after their peak, it can also cause injuries.
“Any crack or tear in the shoe’s construction demonstrates significant wear and tear,” said Karena Wu, owner and clinical director of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York. “If you lose that cushiony feel or notice that your performance is impaired, that’s also definitely a sign that you need to replace your shoes.”
But sometimes shoes look and feel good, even when they’re worn out. So another way to keep tabs on them is mileage and time. Running and walking shoes should be replaced after 300 to 500 miles of use (485 to 805 kilometers), says Roussel, and basketball shoes after 45 to 50 hours of play.
“For aerobics or tennis, replace shoes when they show signs of unevenness on a flat surface or when they have visible creases,” he added.
Plan to replace other sports shoes every six months if you use them almost every day, say experts at the American Council on Exercise. However, if you only exercise a few times a week, you may be able to keep them for a year.
Finally, do not wear your sports shoes in town. They are not intended for this purpose, and occasional use will simply wear them down sooner.
“Feet are our foundation,” Schaeffer said. “We need to protect and support them so that the activity continues to be an integral part of our lives.”
Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer specializing in hiking, travel, and fitness.