Visit any sporting goods store and you’re bound to be overwhelmed by the displays of sneakers that line the walls. Coupled with a salesperson that may not have the knowledge or background to offer you the right advice on which to buy, it’s no wonder that so many shoppers have trouble picking the right shoe from such a wide selection.
The average person will cover thousands of miles in their lifetime, and shoes that are too tight, too loose, or lack the support you need to walk those miles safely can put you at risk for pain and injury.
“Many foot-related problems can be prevented with the proper footwear,” explains Laurence Wolf, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Lankenau Medical Center. “Whether you’re looking for sneakers for everyday use, like walking around or running errands, or for daily exercise sessions, it’s important to invest in a pair that fits well.”
Below, Dr. Wolf offers a few tips for purchasing your next pair of sneakers. Not in the market for a new pair? Check to see how well your current sneakers measure up.
Follow the ‘rule of thumb’
There should be about a thumb’s width between the top of your big toe and the end of the front of your shoe. You should be able to wiggle your toes with your shoe on and tied. If you can’t do that, you’ll want a larger size.
Although there should be room at the front of your shoe, there shouldn’t be much at the back. The heel should be tight, so that your foot won’t slide out of the back when walking. If one foot is slipping out while the other fits comfortably, try to find heel inserts to ensure both feet are staying put.
Determine your arch type
Determining whether you have a high, medium, or low arch is an important factor in finding the right sneaker for you, regardless of your activity. Unfortunately, many people have trouble identifying their arch type. Before you buy your next pair of sneakers, try this arch test.
Place your foot into a thin layer of water on a pan or in a bowl to wet the sole of your foot. Step firmly onto a brown paper shopping bag, keeping your foot from moving or sliding. When you lift your foot, observe the shape of your footprint.
Your arch is in the middle of your foot. If you see about half of your arch, that’s considered a normal or medium arch. If you see your entire footprint with very little indentation in the middle, that’s considered a low arch. If you see just the heel, ball of your foot, and a small sliver of water in the middle of your foot, you have a high arch.
Take note of your results, and be sure to mention it to the salesperson that helps you choose your next pair of sneakers. They can help find a shoe that fits you best.
Go shopping at night
Finding the best sneaker fit can be all about when you shop. Your feet swell up between the morning and afternoon, which means that a pair of sneakers you bought first thing in the morning might be a little too snug by the time the end of the day rolls around. You’ll find the most accurate fit if you shop later in the afternoon or in the evening.
No matter when you’re looking for sneakers, make sure you bring a pair of athletic socks with you to be sure you know exactly how they’ll feel and how they fit.
Visit a specialty store
Sporting goods stores carry quality footwear, but if you’re looking for sneakers for a specific sport, try to find a local store that caters to that audience. Running stores, for example, often have experienced staff who can offer you tips on choosing the right shoe for your gait and routine.
A good pair of sneakers should last you awhile, but they won’t last forever. Look for signs of wear and tear, like a worn-down sole or rips in the material, or changes in the way your shoes feel. If you’re feeling uncomfortable or like you have less support, it might be time to buy a new pair.
If you're experiencing persistent foot, ankle, or leg pain even with a new pair of shoes, make an appointment with your physician to determine the cause. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.