by Jake Greski
One might argue that getting a running injury is part of what makes them a “true” runner given how common they can be. Injuries to the foot or the ankle make up nearly a quarter of all running-related injuries. As a fit associate at Fleet Feet Albany, I can attest that there is no specific running shoe for any single injury. However, choosing a running shoe with the right features can still make a great impact, and there are some overall factors that need to be addressed. The greatest factor is the lifespan of a shoe, which is broadly suggested to be between 300 and 500 miles. Keeping track of the exact number of miles on the shoes isn’t necessary, but it’s important to take a close look at your shoes around 300 miles. If the outsole or midsole shows significant wear, and the feel of the shoe while running has significantly changed, then I suggest getting a new pair sooner rather than later. This wear is highly dependent on your running mechanics; a light-footed runner will get many more miles than a hard heel-striker, for example. It is also important to keep your running shoes solely (no pun intended) for running. Research in 2020 has found that giving shoes a 1 day rest period between uses actually increases the shock absorption of the shoe. More shock absorption leads to decreased risk of developing an injury. Not only does your body need rest, but so do your shoes! We can also look at specific ankle or foot injuries and see which shoe choice may be the best for you.
Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common running-related injuries. It can also be one of the toughest to get rid of and can take months or sometimes years. Fascia is an elastic and fluid tissue found throughout the body, and the plantar fascia is the part of fascia located on the bottom of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of that fascia, which leads to pain most commonly felt in the heel. A classic feature of this injury is waking up in the morning in pain, which can lead to much greater pain after placing weight on the foot after getting out of bed.
There are factors to consider when choosing shoes that can alleviate some of that pain.
A shoe with a high heel-to-toe drop, meaning it is a few millimeters higher in the heel than towards the toes, can alleviate stress off the ankle and foot. Brands that offer higher heel drop shoes would be Asics, Brooks, New Balance, or Nike, to name a few. Another major feature to consider would be a running shoe that has a rocker bottom to it. This facilitates the heel-to-toe transition while running or walking, and takes stress off the plantar fascia and muscles needed to push off the ground. Brands such as Asics, Hoka, New Balance, and Saucony offer some shoes with a rocker bottom. All of these rockers will feel different between brands and among runners, so it's worth trying a pair or two of these on if you’re suffering from plantar fasciitis.
Achilles tendonitis is also a common injury that can pop up for runners of all speeds and distances. The Achilles tendon not only helps the foot push off the ground but absorbs a great amount of force when landing. With this tendonitis you might feel an ache or pain on the back of your foot and slightly above the heel. Typically this comes from a sudden increase in distance or running pace, and is typically the most painful following a run or any workout involving those calf muscles.
Choosing a shoe with a high heel drop or a rocker bottom can also be beneficial, as both of these features will take stress off the calf. If the back of your heel is especially sensitive, you might want a shoe with a soft or flexible heel counter. A heel counter is basically the back part of the shoe that surrounds and controls the heel. Some brands tend to make a stiffer heel counter, and some are more flexible and forgiving. Looking for a shoe with a more cushioned heel counter might be worth trying. There are some Saucony, Brooks, or Nike models that have more flexible heels than other brands.
Shin splints can be a common complaint among runners, and are often connected to other issues in the ankle or foot. This can be a sharp or achy pain along the inner or outer part of the shin, and usually gets worse after a run. Similar to the achilles, this injury can come on from a rapid increase in running mileage or putting more stress on your shins than your body can handle.
Having a running shoe with extra medial support, termed a stability shoe, can often be helpful for those with shin splints. It is common for those who have shin splints to overpronate in their ankles. You overpronate if your ankles excessively roll inward and towards the floor, causing your arches to flatten as you run or walk. Stability running shoes give that ankle and arch some medial support to prevent the excessive rolling and put less stress on the foot and shin muscles. Nearly all major brands have some form of a stability shoe, but they achieve this medial support in different ways. Brooks uses a foam support that sits almost on top of the sole, while Saucony has a shoe that uses a plastic support contained within the sole. Since the arch is a more sensitive area, I would try at least a couple of types of stability shoes to see which provides the most comfortable support.
Jake is an elite runner, running shoe specialist, and student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Russell Sage College. His unique background makes him eminently suited to write columns for the Pace Setter that our readers will benefit from greatly.