If you’re suffering from pain in your low back, legs, ankles or feet it might be time to take a serious look at your walking shoes. While there are a number of factors to consider in choosing the best walking shoes –- stability, flexibility and arch support –- there isn’t a single type of walking shoe that can be labeled as the best for eliminating pain for everyone. Stability and arch support needs vary for each person.
The best walking shoes for you are a pair that gives you good lateral stability -- the last thing you want to do is turn an ankle while you're walking. You need support in the heel of the shoe to prevent over pronation or supination. Your heel should feel snug, but not too tight. The same goes for your toes -- avoid shoes that feel too tight for your toes. Flexibility is important in the toe box of the shoe to allow for a smooth range of motion as you complete each step.
The amount of arch support needed varies from person to person. Having good arch support in your shoe provides strong support for your whole foot and that, in turn, provides the foundation for the rest of your body, keeping it balanced and aligned. If you have arch support inserts or orthotics, these can be used in your walking shoes for extra support.
According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, terms like stability and motion control are often used incorrectly in the description and marketing of walking shoes. If these terms are used inappropriately and are misleading, you can end up with a bad pair of shoes. The best way to determine what brand and style of walking shoe is best for you is to get fitted rather than rely solely on the descriptions of various walking shoes. Have a shoe salesperson measure your feet while you are standing. Then, later in the day after you've been on your feet a while, buy shoes based on those measurements, not based on what you've purchased in the past. Always try both shoes on; it's not uncommon that one foot will be slightly larger than the other.
Walking shoes don't last forever. Pain can quickly creep up on you, especially if you've put too many miles on your shoes. The support in your walking shoes breaks down after you've walked between 300 and 500 miles. Even if you've had the shoes less than a year, don't ignore the mileage. Keep a journal of the number of miles you've walked; as you approach that 300-mile mark, start shopping for a new pair. If you care for your feet, the rest of your body will be grateful.
- Spine Health.com: Guidelines for Buying Walking Shoes
- American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine: Footwear: Walking Shoes
- Spine Health.com: Walking Shoes for Exercise Walking
- Penn Medicine.org: Feet and Podiatric Medicine
- American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine: How Do I Know When it is Time to Replace my Athletic Shoes?
Kris Heeter is a research scientist specializing in basic cancer and disease research. Her work has appeared in several scholarly journals and online publications. Heeter has also been a wellness professional for more than 15 years, teaching healthy cooking courses and fitness classes. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology.