I have had the pleasure of working in specialty running for over a decade now and through these years I have followed a scientific shoe fitting process for walkers, speed walkers, runners, gym-goers and many with foot issues and just need something comfortable. Some days I think I have seen it all and will occasionally get thrown for a loop with someone's specific needs. One thing is for sure, each time they are in the wrong shoe, poor fit, or old shoes they come in with pain or problems.
As we strive to get out and be active it’s important to equip ourselves with things that will help us keep going. Often on social media I see walkers and runners asking “What shoe should I buy?” followed by a list of shoe suggestions, my recommendation is always to find what fits your foot and walk pattern the best. Each walker requires a different fit of the shoe, for example of width, one foot may be longer than the other or wider, heel slipping could be an issue, neuromas, firmer or softer cushion, and pronation support or neutral. It’s important to understand the differences between shoes and to know more about what you need.
Pronation is a natural inward movement of the foot that occurs during foot landing when running, jogging, or walking. Everyone pronates, it’s figuring out how much or to what degree. To put it simply, the more you pronate the more you will benefit from support in your shoes or from arch support.
Supportive or otherwise termed “stability” shoes are designed with a firm structure on the medial, inside, part of the shoe. The focus of that support is to stop the walker or runner in a more neutral position of their stride rather than allowing that over pronation to occur. When walking for long periods of time, or standing on your feet the majority of the day pain can present itself in the back, hips, knees, plantar fasciitis, or shin splints. To avoid this pain, when related to walking, getting proper fit shoes can help alleviate such issues. Many types of shoes that are well-liked in this category are Hoka Gaviota, Brooks Adrenaline, Asics 2000, or New Balance 890. Each of those shoes has a difference in how their support is designed, the cushion is made and the width of midfoot, but they are all the same in the purpose of support when there’s over pronation.
Neutral shoes are designed to allow the walker or runner to stride through naturally, meaning no additional support is built into them, just a nice cushion. Different brands have different levels of cushion, some are lighter weight for more of the speed walking, racing others are built with a maximum cushion which is better for long periods on your feet, especially with bone/joint pain.
One brand I highly suggest for those with habitual knee issues or back issues is Hoka’s, but one brand might not always just work for everyone and that’s a key thing to remember when looking for good walking shoes. Go try them on. Find your fit, make sure you measure your feet and it’s ok to pick shoes that are a half size bigger than you measure. When standing or walking your feet swell naturally through the day, for best comfort it’s good to have about a thumbs width of room from your longest toe to the end of the shoe (measured when standing not sitting).
Lastly, no running or walking shoes are built with an actual arch support in them. If you grab out your general sneaker shoe and pull the liner out you will notice how flat and flimsy they are. Often when trying shoes on buyers will comment on the arch support of the shoe, however, it’s typically the way the outlay of the shoe combined with the way the shoes are laced, does actually feel like an arch support. If you want to get more arch support from your shoes it’s good to get a pair that fits the length and height of your arch and slide them in your shoes, taking the liner out first of course. Orthotics work, however you don’t always have to go to that extreme to get a good fit in your shoe. Brands like Superfeet and Pinnacle arch supports are found at local running stores, REI, etc. My biggest advice with arch supports is you want it to compliment your arch NOT feel like you’re standing on a golf ball.
Overall the goal for finding a proper fit is to feel good on your feet and encourage you to stay active.
about the author
Linnley joined the HealthTree Foundation in January 2020 as the Fitness Events Manager. Her husband is a childhood cancer survivor as well as a cancer biologist. Finding a cure, better treatments, and balance through treatments is what drives their family. Linnley is an Advanced Cancer Exercise Specialist and focuses on finding what you can do rather than can't.