Basic Shoe Design & Construction
Heel Counter- Refers to the rigid part of the “Upper” which encompasses the heel around the sides and back, surrounding the achilles tendon. This acts to control motion at the heel and prevent excessive inward or outward ankle movement. Our sports physical therapist here at Premier Physical Therapy suggests checking the integrity of your heel counter by trying to pinch the back of your shoe together; you will not be able to pinch the sides together with a strong heel counter.
Lasts– The lasts are the shape of the shoe, commonly referred to as straight, semi-curved, and curved (see pic below). Straight lasts provide for more pronation control as it blocks overpronation. Curved lasts cut in by the arch, and the toe box has more curve to it, this allows for more pronation, commonly seen in neutral cushion shoes. Semi-curved lasts are in the middle.
Outsole- This is where the rubber meets the road. The outsole provides contact with the ground and depending on the type of surface you plain to run on, trail or road, this will vary. Trail shoes need more traction and grip versus road running shoes provide a smoother surface with cushioning.
Toebox– This is the region at the front of the shoe where your toes are. This is important to look at to be sure the toe box isn’t too narrow or pinching on your toes. You want this wide enough to not negatively affect your toe posture; this can be a problem for those runners with bunions, Morton’s neuroma, or hammertoes.
Uppers- This is what holds your foot in the shoe. Today’s materials are much lighter and more breathable. Neutral cushioning and minimalist shoes are going to have more lightweight material than a motion control shoe.
Common Types of Shoes
These shoes are designed for those runners who either underpronate or correctly pronate. Contrary to popular belief held by some, pronation is not a bad thing, overpronating or not being able to control it is. Neutral Cushioning shoes, just like their name implies, provides equal density cushioning throughout the shoes. The lack of a more dense material under the arch promotes arch drop. While cushioning is great, you don’t want too much because that can lead to a slowing down of the natural running mechanics. These shoes are typically lighter in weight due to the less dense sole and lack of arch support materials.
Stability shoes are for those runners who need some assistance with pronation control and/or support but not the maximum control that a motion control shoe would provide. Stability shoes also provide a dual density shoe sole. Typically the arch support is a different color which indicates the more dense material which provides resistance to overpronation. These shoes are typically a little heavier in weight.
This is the most restrictive/supportive type of shoe. The motion control shoe is designed for those runners who demonstrate moderate to severe overpronation. Lighter individuals would be better served in a stability shoe due to the restrictive nature of the motion control shoe, as these shoes are generally designed for individuals over 225#. They have features which work to counter this overpronation including stiffer heels and straight lasts.
This is probably the most asked about shoe type recently. Over the past 5-10 years, there has been a major push by shoe manufacturers to a more “natural” running style. The “natural” running style is running on your forefoot, while traditional shoes commonly result in a heelstrike pattern due to the elevated heel cushion. Supporters claim the natural running style leads to reduced impact on the feet, therefore reducing injury risk.
The idea is that individuals have been running barefoot since the beginning of time, and therefore shoes alter our “natural” running style. While this is true, most of use have been wearing shoes since we were born and have adapted weaknesses and running mechanical deficits which prohibit us from being efficient barefoot runners. The bottom line is that barefoot or minimalist shoes are not the answer for everyone and the advertised “reduced injury risk” is not substantiated by strict scientific research. That is not to say minimalist shoes don’t have there place.
If someone has the proper foot posture and biomechanics, including active control of pronation, then these may be the answer. This style of running requires the runner to run on his/her forefoot which places additional stress on the metatarsals and calf musculature. If a switch is to be made, it is wise to consult with your Orthopaedist or Sports Physical Therapist regarding an effective training program to ease into the switch. Without proper training injury risks include achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures.There are a variety of minimalist shoes which offer varying degrees of heel height which can ease the transition to barefoot or “zero drop” type shoes.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is a lot of new technology and research in running, and with all this information comes a lot of questions. Below are some common questions that our sports physical therapists hear from runners. If you have any questions of your own, please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will reply as quickly as I can, and maybe post the question here.
Q: How often should I buy new shoes?
A: The general rule of thumb is every 300-500 miles, or every 4-6 months. The reasoning is that the material the shoes are made of naturally breakdown over time and/or with repeated stress. As the material in the cushion and supports breakdown the shoe becomes less effective at its job, therefore, placing you at risk for injury.
Q: What brand of shoe is the best?
A: This is different for everyone, each shoe manufacturer has different options for the runner, and you really need to find the right fit for you. Check out your local running shoe store and talk with someone who can help you identify the correct pair of running shoes for you. Don’t be too concerned about looks. Most importantly make sure the shoes provide the correct amount of support, in the right places, that are specific to your needs, and make sure they are comfortable and fit correctly-always get your foot measured, it will typically be its biggest in the afternoon or evening.
Q: Should I buy new shoes for a race?
A: You really shouldn’t. There is typically a break in period for a new period of shoes. The duration of this periods varies depending on the shoe type; if the shoe is very similar to your previous pair your foot will not have to adjust as much. If you are changes shoe brands or shoe type this period of time can be longer, and you should always try to progressively increase your running distance in the new shoes before any race.