I am asked this question everyday. Sometimes I feel like my answer would best be served by placing an audio player in my office and pressing play each time it is asked! That may not be a bad idea…
“Shoes do no more for the foot than a hat does for the brain.”
—Dr. Mercer Rang, legendary orthopedic surgeon and researcher in pediatric development
That’s a pretty hard statement to swallow? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children not wearing shoes until it is nessecitated by the environment. Why, you may ask? Functioning barefoot enables the foot to become stronger by utilizing the muscles that attach to the toes as well as within the arch. This helps the foot become more stable during a child’s developmental years which will be beneficial later in life.
Analogies are a great way to get one’s point across, so here’s something to consider. If you were to do a push up, chances are when you place your hands on the ground, you will splay your fingers and “grip” the ground. Your fingers have muscles and tendons that begin in the forearm and cross your wrist and by activating these muscles, the fingers flex and extend to make the hand more stable against the ground. If you were to try to perform a push-up by making a fist, your hand will be unstable and your arms will wobble. The same holds true for your feet. If your toes are jammed into tight socks, followed by snug fitting shoes (because most people in our society feel that their shoes and socks need to fit tight) your toes lose their ability to function and grip the ground making them practically useless when it comes to providing stability for our feet.
What does all this have to do with selecting shoes? One first must realize how our feet work properly, or they will not believe or understand my advice when it comes to selecting shoes.
Wide Toe Box
The shoes should allow your toes to move freely and your feet to feel the ground. If the toe box is too narrow, the toes will squished together.
Focus on finding a shoe with a wide toe box.
Yes. Flexibe. Not a stiff and rigid shoe as we were all taught many years ago which includes a supportive arch and motion control. A flexible shoe allows the foot to work the way it was intended to with being interfered with from a shoe. A rigid shoe will inhibit joint motions that are normal and helpmwith shock absorption. When you hear the term “pronantion”, runners think it is bad and leads to injury. Pronation is actually a normal part of running and walking mechanics and leads to natural shock absorption. So that orthotic that you’ve been wearing for the past “X” number of years probably isn’t necessary.
A flexible shoe to allow our foot to undergo normal shock absorbing mechanisms
Minimal or No Cushioned Heel
Back in the early 1980s, Nike created a shoe known as the Air Max which had a very high cushioned heel which was thought to help reduce injury. We have since proven this to be untrue. When a large heel is placed under the heel of our foot, it places the foot in an abnormal position and then forces the body to function around this abnormal position. Basically it leads to abnormal mechanics and can create injury not prevent it.
A cushioned heel shoe can promote heel striking which is an abnormal way to run and will eventually lead to injury.
The aforementioned three points are what defines the ideal running shoe. The challenge is finding the shoe that perfectly incorporates all three of these principles. Many of the popular shoe companies make a shoe in this category since the industry was redefined when minimalist shoes became popular. Some of my favorites are TopoAthletic, Altra Running, Nike Free, New Balance Minimus, and Merrell to name a few. If you’re trying TopoAthletic or Altra then you are probably fine with any model you choose. With the others, you’ll need to do your research to make sure it’s not an outdated motion control shoe which, by the way, are still being made.
Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions!