Runner's Guide to Foot Type and the Right Shoe
by Dr. Jeffrey Ross, D.P.M., F.A.C.F.A.S.
your foot type and the biomechanics that take place during
running can be of great value when attempting to select
the right running shoe. A great shoe for one runner may
be completely wrong for another. If we all had the same
feet and they functioned the same, we would all choose
the same shoe.
By now, most runners are familiar with the three various
foot types: the flat foot, where overpronation usually
takes place; the normal foot type, where a normal amount
of pronation occurs; and the high arched foot, where the
Most runners can determine if they pronate sufficiently
by examining their arch height. Another way to test is
to wet the foot, stand on a dry surface, and evaluate the
footprint that is created. The flat or low arched foot
will show a greater surface volume, and its print will
show a complete arch. The normal arch will effect a mild
scooped-out arch area, whereas the high arched foot will
demonstrate a hollowed out arch, barely to the opposite
What exactly does pronation mean? After the heel lands
on the ground (heel strike), usually to the outside, the
foot then rolls inward slightly to a neutral position,
making full contact with the ground. This is the mid-stance
phase of running gait. Now comes the time for pronation:
as the foot begins to roll inwards and downward, it begins
to pronate. Now this is a vital motion for the foot due
to the fact that it provides for propulsion and impact
When a runner over-pronates, the foot rolls inward excessively,
which may lead to a multitude of lower leg injuries such
as shin splints, planar fascitis (heel pain), Achilles
tendonitis, posterior tibial tendonitis and knee pain.
For the runner who underpronates, commonly referred to
as a supinator, this rigid foot which does not handle shock
absorption very well can also lead to injury. Illio-tibial
band syndrome, knee pain, sesamoiditis, lateral ankle sprains
and peroneal tendonitis are common to supinators.
Foot type and shoe type. Knowing your foot type will help
you select the right shoe. Foot shape goes along with this
formula for selecting the proper shoe. Running shoes usually
come in three shapes: straight, curved, and semi-curved.
These three shapes correspond with the last that the shoe
is built upon. Sports medicine podiatrists and other experts
generally agree that overpronators (flat feet) should wear
a straight lasted shoe, underpronators (supinators) should
wear a curve-lasted shoe, and normal pronators should select
a semi curved-lasted shoe.
Running shoes also have a number of other characteristics,
such as motion control, stability, shock absorption, durability
and light-weightness. Depending on your foot type, whether
or not you are an over or under pronator, height, weight,
number of miles run per week/month, surfaces that you run
upon, etc., can also assist you in selecting the right
shoe. An overpronator who chronically develops shin splints
may look for a motion-control shoe with a straight last.
A tall/heavy runner who runs on concrete will be concerned
with cushioning and shock absorption. The mid-sole of the
shoe where the cushioned material is located may consist
of E.V.A., polyurethane, or a combination of the two. The
outer sole (rubber layer) is also vital for its durability,
particularly on concrete/asphalt surfaces. After all, we
don't want the shoe to wear out and break down in less
than three months or after only 250 miles.
Where should you look for a new shoe and get rid of the
old ones? The rule of thumb here is that after six months
or 500 miles the shoes should "hit the road." If you see
crushed down E.V.A. and uneven outer sole tread wear, you
can bet this will cause uneven heel strike and imbalance
in the foot and leg. When you see the outer sole begin
to break down to the E.V.A. layer, then you know for sure
it's time to go looking for a new pair of "tires."
Speaking of the unevenly worn shoes, there is a reason
for this. Remember our overpronator/underpronator? Well,
think about A.J. Foyt racing on a front-end that's out
of alignment! Those tires would wear down rather quickly.
Well, with poor biomechanical alignment, so would a runner's
knees, feet and shoes. That's where proper balancing of
the lower extremity comes in. Proper evaluation of the
runner, both in walking gait as well as running gait, is
essential. A sports medicine podiatrist or specialist can
analyze the runner's gait, perform videotaping or computer
analysis to determine what type of biomechanics of the
lower legs are involved, and predict what types of problems
could occur. Together with this information, a recommendation
of a few shoes could be given. Your specialist has had
experience with various shoes, companies and models. You
should be able to trust his or her opinion in helping to
select the right shoe.
What type of shoe store should I go to in order to select
the right shoe? I've often advised runners to a specialty
running shoe store. They are usually owned by a runner
with a sales force of other knowledgeable runners. They
usually have a wide selection of shoes and models. I can
assure you that they won't rush you, or try to sell you
the first shoe you try on. They'll be very patient and
help you with a variety of shoe styles and models.
There are few tips that you may want to remember when
you visit that shoe store! Do not buy the shoe in the morning,
for that is when the foot is at its smallest size. As the
day progresses, the foot usually swells, and this additional
volume may make the shoe rather tight. Make sure that the
sales person measures your foot properly, and not just
one, but both. If your right foot is bigger than your left,
it wouldn't be so good if your right big toe hits the end
of the shoe while the left is fine. Wear the type of sock
you typically run in. If you wear orthotics, bring them
with you. Usually the standard inner sole of the shoe may
need to be removed before you insert your orthotics into
the shoe. The shoe salesperson should also be familiar
with your running history, foot type, foot problems, and
any special needs. He should be aware of your weight, training
history, running surfaces, mileage per week, past history
of shoe wear, etc.
If the shoe fits, wear it! Now that you're armed with
all this information, what's the bottom line? If the shoe
fits, wear it! Fit and comfort are probably two of the
most important components to finding the right shoe. There
are, however, a few additional hints when selecting the
- Make sure that there is adequate length between the
end of the longest toe to the end of the shoe.
- Check to see that there is enough toe-box room between
the top of the toes to the top of the shoe.
- Make sure that the tongue and laces fit snugly, yet
do not create irritation on the instep.
- When you step down, check to see if the heel slides
up and down or not. It should also fit snugly: not too
Dr. Ross is a Podiatrist, M.D. in private
practice in Houston, TX. To book an appointment with
Dr. Ross or find out about his services he can be reached