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  • Mike Curtin

Sports shoe or fashion shoe??? I’m confused.

I’ve recently had a spate of New Year’s Resolutioners (is that a word?) who have presented to the clinic with foot/leg/knee pain. The pain that they have has progressively been getting worse and now is endangering their great start to the year. As with most consults we begin with the problem and their description of the pain, how long they’ve had it and what they believe it is.

I usually then discuss this with them and ask a few questions, trying to get the best picture of what is going on. One of the first discussions that we have is footwear. What foot wear do they train in? How old are the shoes? Was this particular shoe a product of discussion with a store worker or were they bought because they look great and the colours were really cool???

So let’s start at the beginning….. Repeat after me…..


You see, a sport shoe is a bit like a finely tuned race car. In nearly every sense it is a product of technology, biomechanics, engineering and fashion. Different ‘ingredients’ go into the mid sole blending cushioning, control, energy return and energy absorption. Guide rails, wave plates, Duomax, DNA, Propulsion trustics, DRB, MOGO, fluid ride, gel pods and many other crazy named devices that shoe companies market, help to do each of these jobs. Years of research and design goes into a sports shoe to ensure the product does its job as well at the 42 km mark in a marathon as it does at the 10km mark with one essential rule; that the shoes are not more than about 800-1200kms old.

For your average Jane and Joe this roughly equals every 12 months. For those working out it is every 8-9 months and if you are a serious athlete you are powering through at least 3 pairs of runners a year. Even if you don’t wear them often, moisture from sweat begins to break down the midsole of the shoe so that if you don’t get your 1000kms, the shoe will not perform at its max after a year/18 months old. Old or worn sports shoes are often a major cause of foot and lower limb pain. The outer sole may not look worn and the upper may still appear shiny and new but the mid sole which is the shoe’s backbone is often gone, giving it little support when under load.

If the shoes are not too old, I then look at the kind of shoe…. You wouldn’t take a Lamborghini or Ferrari up the Bridle Track or onto the beach. Why? Because that is not what that car was built for. Similarly each of us requires something different from our shoes and there is no point in taking a Ferrari out for a run when clearly a Land Cruiser is needed! Many people buy sport shoes because of colour, the way it looks or ‘first fit’. Shoes manufacturers know that the ‘first fit ’ is their 60 seconds to impress you. If you put a shoe on generally you will give it a green or red light within the first minute. We like comfort, cushioning and a more relaxed fitting (probably why Crocs dis so well). We love Uggies and tracky dacks for their comfort. But when exercising and moving many of us join a gym, exercise clubs or employ personal trainers because we need to be motivated. We need to be structured. The same is true of our sports shoes. If we are going to run, walk, skip or jump in these shoes, they also need to tell us how we should be moving in the majority of cases.

Bare foot running and natural motion is fine for some people. This is a thought process which allows the foot to function naturally. Generally running on grass and softer environments is the way to convert to barefoot running and the process can take 6-18 months to do properly. This is not true however for the people that need to see us because they bought the minimalist running shoe for comfort and cushioning, and then developed tendonitis, bursitis or possibly a stress fracture. In order move through the mine field of shoes you need to get the right advice. Go to a reputable sports store with staff that have been trained to give footwear and fit advice. Take their advice as good advice. If they are a proper sports store then their reputation goes with anything a member of sales staff says to you. Poor advice means a customer that doesn’t return.

Have a good look at the shoe. Squeeze the shoe like an accordion with one palm at the toe and the other at the heel. It should only bend around the toe joints. Push the heel from the back and then the sides…. Push it hard! Your body weight moving is going to give that heel hell so it needs to be tough. If it collapses when you push it, it is NOT a sports shoe….. It is a fashion shoe or minimalist shoe. Try to twist the shoe like wringing out a wet cloth. If it twists excessively, it is not a sports shoe, it is a fashion shoe. It is a shoe dressed up like sports shoe in the hope that you make a fashion decision in store and purchase it. When we exercise, we often need structure and so do our shoes. There is nothing wrong with these fashion shoes, only the activities that we choose to use them for.

In closing, there are major ‘sporting’ shoe brands out there that sell millions of shoes each year to the masses which for the average person are not fit for fitness. They look good and speak to the fashion conscious among us which is exactly why so many buy them. Which brands do I recommend? Asics, Brooks, Mizuno, Saucony, Adidas and New Balance are the primary brands that I recommend to patients. Of course, the individual shoe that you purchase will need to support you in your given activity and this is where the shop assistants can help you. Keep an open mind, take advice and be honest. Tell the sales assistant what you don’t want before they try to help you. If you don’t like bright colours, say so. That’ll help them provide you with some real choices. Most importantly, figure out what you are going to use them for… It makes a big difference in shoe selection.

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