There has to be something like over 1 million different types of shoes out there, right? How do you know which shoe is best for you? The answer to that question is one that we hear in physical therapy school a lot….. IT DEPENDS!!! **also note that these are my professional opinions and I have no affiliations or relationships with any particular shoe brands**
There are always going to be fads and trends when it comes to footwear. For example, the finger toes, the barefoot running shoe, the Skecher ShapeUPs, the HOKAS, the skater shoe, Converse, AirJordans, Asics, Nikes, and the list goes on and on. This blog is meant to cover shoe selection generically and finish with the burning question I get from aging runners - Should I switch to HOKAS (or cushioned shoes)??
When it comes to shoewear, there are a lot of things to consider. Are you running? What type of surface are you running on? How often do you run? How far do you run? Are you walking? Where do you walk mostly? Are you in any foot pain? Do you have any pain with walking? Do you wear gym shoes all day? Do you wear high heels for work? Do you wear sandals in the summertime? It’s quite the specialty to pick the perfect shoe for someone and we almost never get it right the first time…
When you come to physical therapy and ask the question, “but which shoes are best for me?” your physical therapist will start asking the above questions. They’ll also follow it with a gait or running analysis in addition to a movement screen. They’ll check the range of motion of your low back, hips, knees, ankles, and the tiny joints in your feet. The most important thing about selecting a shoe is finding one that will SUPPORT your current and preferred movement pattern versus attempting to CORRECT it. In my 7 years of working with runners and hikers in Colorado, I have only once ever recommended a MOTION CONTROL shoe for a patient. More frequently, we are able to address motor control deficiencies before relying on an external source, like a shoe, to correct any gait or running deviations.
Now, to address the most recent fad or trend in shoewear, I’m going to talk a little bit about HOKAS or shoes that have a lot of cushion. I took two intensive running courses over the past 7 years and they presented similar information regarding the theory behind HOKAS. The idea is that the significant cushion will reduce shock absorption through the rest of the body. The reason I write THEORY is that this is almost impossible to prove with the current technology (at least at the time I’m writing this blog). There are studies that show ground reaction forces when wearing HOKAS and when BAREFOOT. Ground reaction forces are a measurement of how hard you stomp on the ground. This measure has an equal and opposite force through your body. Ultimately, the study found that there was no change in the magnitude of your ground reaction force. Where the study is limited is showing WHERE the ground reaction force is being absorbed. Hence, THEORY. With that great of a cushion, the assumption is a large amount of that force is being absorbed by the shoe and not your joints.
So, I always get the question from the aging runner - should I switch to HOKAS? And just as I started this blog, the answer is - IT DEPENDS! If I watch you run, jump, hop and I can see you have a difficult time with absorption through musculature and joints, I may recommend the HOKA-type shoe. But if I think it’s something that you can train and work up to, I would go down that path first. In my opinion, the downside of HOKAS is that the cushion significantly increases the distance between the sensors in your feet and the ground. Basically, your entire lower kinetic chain takes longer to process any feedback from the ground and this can often lead to ankle sprains, falls, and other injuries.
I also mentioned in the beginning of the blog that selecting the perfect shoe is incredibly challenging and that we almost never get it right the first time. There are so many factors in addition to what I’ve already discussed from a physical therapy standpoint. We need to take into consideration cost, cosmetics, comfort, durability, fit, and ease of getting them on and off. I may very well pick a shoe that I think is perfect for you, you’ll test it out and absolutely hate it! This is where your shoe history is incredibly helpful. I often find that whatever shoe you used to wear all the time is likely the correct shoe for you - we just may need to adjust your motor control for efficient muscle firing during walking or running.
And if we simply cannot find the right shoe for you, that’s when we start considering orthotics. The question of “how do I know if I need orthotics?”.... Well, that’ll be for another blog post :)