“All activities and sports require care in choosing specific shoes,” said Dr. Bradley Schaeffer, a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon at New York City’s Sole Podiatry. “You have to provide proper support to avoid creating or exacerbating conditions such as bunions, hammertoes, plantar fasciitis and ingrown toenails.”
Working out in appropriate footwear also helps avoid overuse injuries, said Dr. Nelya Lobkova, a surgical podiatrist with Step Up Footcare in New York City. “It’s especially important for the beginner or average participant, who is more prone to improper form.”
Athletic shoes may enhance your athletic performance, too, as they are designed to provide the appropriate support and stability for a particular activity — like running. Since running involves a repetitive forward motion, a good running shoe will be light with a flexible outsole, which helps keep the foot moving while absorbing the impact of the foot striking the ground.
Hiking shoes, in contrast, have deeper tread patterns than running shoes to increase traction on uneven and natural surfaces, and they often come with higher uppers to provide ankle stability. Volleyball shoes, like many court shoes, provide support for movement in all directions, plus cushioning for the jumping that often occurs.
Finding the right shoe
Running, basketball, volleyball, hiking and tennis are some of the activities for which it’s essential to have a sport-specific shoe, especially if you’re a more serious athlete who wants to maximize your performance, said Dr. Damian Roussel, a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon with The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics in Frederick, Maryland.
But with so many brands on the market, how do you know which is the best shoe for you? Generally, it’s the one that fits your uniquely shaped foot the best. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t so great at determining proper fit.
Make sure you try on both the right and left shoe, wearing the socks you typically use for this sport. The heel counter should hold your heel in place so there’s 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 constricted.
“Proper toe-box room, ill-fitting shoes and constricting shoes cause a lot of the problems I see in my practice,” Schaeffer said.
Whatever you do, don’t buy a not-quite-right pair of shoes, thinking you can break them in over time. You can’t.
Once you’ve identified the right pair of shoes for your feet and brought them home, watch for signs of wear and tear over time. For if you use athletic shoes past their prime, that can also cause injuries.
“Any cracks or tears in the shoe construction demonstrate significant wear and breakdown,” said Karena Wu, owner and clinical director of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York City. “If you lose that cushiony feeling, or you notice your performance being altered, that is also definitely a sign you need to replace your shoes.”
“For aerobic dance or tennis, replace shoes when they show signs of unevenness on a flat surface, or when they display noticeable creasing,” he added.
Finally, don’t wear your athletic shoes around town. They are not meant for that purpose, and casual usage will simply wear them out sooner.
“The feet are our foundation,” Schaeffer said. “We must protect and support them to keep activity a regular part of our lives.”