Walking and running shoes may look the same on the outside, but they feature quite a few subtle differences that you should know about when choosing the proper footwear for an activity. Primarily, the differences lie in padding, flexibility, insulation and arch support. While every shoemaker and shoe features a specific arch support design and firmness, walking shoes will typically have more arch support than running shoes.
Walking shoes are designed with greater flexibility, as your foot bends more while you are walking than running. They also feature more padding in the ball, or front, of your foot, as your weight is more evenly distributed while you are walking. Walking shoes typically feature more arch support compared to running shoes to protect your foot from the force of your weight, which is distributed across your foot while walking.
Running shoes are designed for large amounts of force -- three to four times your body weight -- directed firmly at the heel. For this reason, they feature more padding in the heel. Consider the huge gel or air inserts typical in running or basketball shoes. Since most of the force is applied at your heel while running, they do not need as much arch support as a walking shoe might. Other differences include a stiffer sole, as your foot does not flex as much while you are running, and less insulation with mesh instead, as your feet sweat more while running.
Flat-footedness and Arches
You can determine how much arch support you will need by knowing your arch type. If you walk barefoot with wet feet, or walk on the beach, do you see much arch connecting the front and back of your foot? If you see none at all, or a thin line, you probably have a high arch. People with high arches are more prone to stress fractures due to the reduced shock absorption of their feet and should wear shoes with more cushioning.
If you can see the full width of the middle part of your footprint clearly when you walk on the beach, from the insole to outsole, you probably have a low arch. This is colloquially known as being "flat-footed," and people who are flat-footed tend to have muscle and joint problems in their knees and hips and may pronate. This is colloquially known as "toeing out" or "walking duck-footed." People who have low arches should seek shoes that feature firmer and higher medial -- or inside -- arch supports for greater stability.
Choose a shoe that you feel comfortable in. You do not want your shoes to rub or cause discomfort; on the other hand, you don't want them so loose that they will cause blisters. Shoes typically last 250 to 500 miles; replace them every year or two. You can help your shoes last longer by rotating them -- wear a different pair of sneakers or dress shoes every other day; this will allow the rubber in the soles to decompress and to regain its original shape.
- UpToDate: Clinical Features and Management of Foot Pain in the Young Athlete
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: The Effect of Three Different Levels of Footwear Stability on Pain Outcomes in Women Runners: a Randomised Control Trial
- Science Direct: Effects of Shoe Inserts and Heel Height on Foot Pressure, Impact Force, and Perceived Comfort During Walking
Since 2002, James Stein has been writing for journals such as the "International Journal of Cancer." He served as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Stein holds dual Bachelor of Science degrees in biology and environmental policy, as well as a Master of Science in biomedical science from Tufts University, and is also completing an M.D.