Shoe safety: Put your best foot forward

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
When walking down the shoe aisle of a store, one might get confused by all the latest styles and features each pair has to offer.

Lightweight or extra durability? Gel or soft foam? Trail or track? White or blue?

For some, it's amazing to think of the hundreds of different complex designs, color schemes, packaging campaigns and celebrity endorsements that go into a product for just two feet.

But beyond the colors, boxes and advertising, the selection of the right pair of shoes can be one of the most important decisions one can make regarding their physical health while exercising, especially running.

"When you run, you have four times your body weight striking the ground with every stride," said Brent Cowen, Hurlburt Field Health and Wellness Center exercise physiologist. "It's a great exercise, but it's a lot of wear-and-tear on your joints. That's why it's so important to be sure you're wearing the right pair of shoes."

To better prepare people for running, Cowen suggested an approach to shoe safety that incorporates type, size and intended use.

"When buying shoes, many people think 'If it's a fitness or athletic shoe that it's a good running shoe,' but that's definitely not the case," Cowen said. "They also think the more expensive the shoe, the better performance and that's also not the case."

According to HAWC brochures, most shoes fall into one of the following categories: stability, cushioning and motion-control. Each serves a distinct purpose and is geared toward a different segment of the population, depending on the arch in a person's foot and its inward or outward rotation: 
  • Stability shoes: Firm and often rigid, they're ideal for runners with a normal arch or a neutral gait; 80 percent of people need this type of shoe. 
  • Cushioning shoes: Ideal for "springy" and "quiet" runners or people with high arches and rigid feet; this is the most commonly sold shoe. 
  • Motion-control shoes: Aids a floppy or unstable foot, and its midsoles tend to last the longest. These are ideal for runners with moderate to severe rotation of the foot or flat feet.
Many Airmen have also recently bought "five-finger" shoes, which are distinctive with thin, flexible soles and contoured sections for each toe. While the Air Force is currently conducting research and has not issued a conclusive statement on the shoes, Cowen said potential buyers should be lighter weight (no more than 180 pounds for males and 150 pounds for females) and have a higher arch.

And, as with all shoes, he recommends a gradual process of breaking them in. Try them on a track or treadmill before taking them out on a road or trail.

Once you've determined your shoe type, select the proper size. This helps avoid numbness and cramping.

"Most people buy shoes that are too small or too narrow," he said. "A good way to check is to take out the detachable insole and stand on it. If your foot hangs off any part of the insole, the shoe is too small."

To have an adequate measure of length, Cowen said there should be a thumb's distance between the big toe and the tip of the shoe to accommodate for swelling. He also suggests buyers shop later in the day as their feet tend to swell if they've been recently running.

And despite how dirty one's shoes can get, never put them in the washer or dryer. That will just break down the support. Clean them by using a toothbrush or spot-brush or don't wear them in bad weather if possible. 

"Don't wear your running shoes for anything else but running," he said. "If you're going to the gym, wear a second pair of shoes like cross-training for [physical training] outdoors."

Avid runners (someone who runs more than 20 miles a week) should have at least two pairs of running shoes, Cowen said. Just like a car's tires, your shoes should be replaced after months of mileage. According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine's website, the usual estimate to replace running shoes is between 350 and 550 miles. 

If you still have questions or need help with selecting the right pair of shoes, Cowen and the HAWC staff offer a free running clinic where they will check which shoe type bests suits your needs and also evaluate your current pair.

For more information, contact the HAWC at 884-4292.