How To Choose Shoes For Walking And Running – Presented By Advanced Physical Therapy

Finding the perfect walking or running shoe isn’t an easy task. With countless options on the market, navigating through various features and styles can be overwhelming. However, proper footwear is crucial for comfort, performance, and injury prevention. Keep reading for expert advice on picking the right shoe to set you off on the right foot.  

Types of Walking & Running Shoes  

Before selecting walking shoes, it’s essential to understand the different types. Your foot anatomy, preferred terrain, and overall goals will help determine what type of shoe is best for you.  

  • Stability shoes: These shoes are designed for mild to moderate overpronation (your foot collapsing inward when you walk/run) and feature more arch support.  
  • Motion control shoes: Good for severe overpronators, offering maximum stability and control.  
  • Cushioned shoes: Suitable for neutral foot profiles, providing ample padding and flexibility for a comfortable stride.  
  • Minimalist shoes: Offers a barefoot-like experience, promoting a natural gait pattern and strengthening foot muscles.  
  • Trail shoes: Specific for off-road adventures, with rugged outsoles and traction for challenging terrain.  

How Should Your Walking and Running Shoes Fit?  

  • Length: Your shoes should leave about a finger-width of space between your big toe and the end of the shoe. This space adds a buffer for movement and helps prevent toe cramps and blisters.  
  • Width: Your shoes should comfortably accommodate the width of your foot, neither too tight nor too loose.   
  • Arch Support: The arch support of your shoes should meet your arch, not push you into more of an arch.  
  • Heel Fit: Your heel should fit snugly into the back of the shoe, preventing slipping while you walk or run.  
  • Toe Box: The toe box of your shoes should offer ample room for your toes to wiggle comfortably without feeling cramped.   

Expert tips:  

  • To ensure a good fit, try the shoe on with the specific socks or inserts you plan on using.  
  • If the shoe feels uncomfortable when you first try it on, it will not become comfortable after you buy it.  
  • Each brand’s new model of the same shoe tends to vary slightly from previous models, so don’t assume this year’s version will fit like the last edition.  
  • When in doubt, visit a local specialty running store to help choose several options that fit your best needs.  

Best Walking & Running Shoe for Injury Prevention  

Although no specific shoe will reduce injury, choosing a shoe that fits your foot anatomy and walking or running style is the best way to keep you healthy.  

As a physical therapist, I see one common mistake that leads to walking and running injuries. People often change their type of shoe while maintaining the same mileage—never allowing their body to adapt to the different mechanics that the new shoe may require.  

The most common example is heel-strike runners who wear cushioned shoes and switch to a more minimalist shoe. Minimalist shoes require a forefoot running pattern and typically have less cushioning. If individuals try to run with a heel-strike pattern in minimalist shoes, there’s a good chance they may develop ankle or knee pain if they do not ease into the transition.  

As long as you give yourself time to transition to new types of shoes, there should not be an issue.  

How Long Do Walking & Running Shoes Last?  

It’s often recommended that you replace your walking and running shoes every 300-500 miles. This averages out to around every 6-12 months for most people. If you are a runner who does higher mileage, it may be even less.  

How can a Physical Therapist Help? 

Footwear choice, mechanics, improper mileage progressions and overtraining can all cause foot-related aches and pains. Most injuries will resolve quicker when you address the root cause early on, but often it is difficult to get an outside perspective of what’s causing your pain. As movement experts, physical therapists can quickly and effectively evaluate your situation and determine the solution to getting you back on the road and enjoying what you love.

If you have additional questions about managing aches and pains, use our interactive map tool to find a physical therapist in your area.