Jeff Strojny, C. Ped
The world of athletic shoes is full of branded technologies, marketing facades, and false impressions. Companies write shoe descriptions so every shoe sounds comfortable, even the low end models. While often what they say is true, their claims are exaggerated, which can prove disastrous for consumers falling into the traps. It’s time to bust some of the myths associated with running shoes. Keep these in mind next time you’re looking for a shoe, and it could pay off.
Width isn’t Width – Foot measuring isn’t a science, it’s an art. There are too many measurements and discrepancies on a foot to take into account. Therefore, foot length, arch length, and width are the three main measurements used to fit shoes. Foot length and arch length are somewhat concrete; they are both linear measurements, heel to toe and heel to ball of foot, respectively.
Width adds another dimension which many people overlook. A Brannock Device (a metal contraption used to measure feet) measures from side to side and assigns a letter measurement (B, D, 2E, etc.) to indicate width. This can sometimes be an effective measurement, though it does not take the depth of the foot into account. The width measurement used in shoes really refers to volume, or girth. Someone with a narrow, tall foot might need a wide width to accommodate the height of the instep. The width of the foot bed reflects how much width a typical foot would need if it were to fit that specific shoe. This makes the narrow, wide foot or the wide, shallow foot difficult to fit. Every width increases ¼” in girth. That is, if you were to take a string and wrap it around the ball of the foot, the next width up would be ¼” longer. So, even if you have a narrow foot, it doesn’t mean you need a narrow shoe.
Stability isn’t Stability – One of biggest misnomers of running shoes is the classification system: Neutral, Stability, and Motion Control. Neutral shoes have very little side-to-side support for the neutral or supinated foot, a foot that doesn’t need extra help. This classification is appropriate, as long as the term neutral cushioning isn’t used synonymously, which will be addressed in the next section. The categories Stability and Motion Control are a bit more deceptive. Stability shoes are any shoes designed with a medial (towards the midline of the body) support. You will often see a gray piece on the midsole of the shoe (the post) which is made of a denser material than the rest of the midsole. As the size and density of this piece increases, so does the amount of support. This medial support stops a foot from pronating by forcing it back towards a neutral position. If a supinated foot were to wear a stability shoe, the shoe would supinate it further, causing the person to walk on the outside of the foot. Therefore stability shoes don’t necessarily make you stable, they merely decrease pronation.
Shoe companies arbitrarily draw a line at a certain point on the stability spectrum and declare anything above that line to be a Motion Control shoe, when in fact they are just heavy duty stability shoes. They do control motion to an extent, but only in one direction. There are a few shoes in production that have both medial and lateral support, which I consider to be the “true” motion control shoes. Pronation and supination are both restricted in these shoes. Though these are rare, they are beneficial to the truly unstable foot. So remember, the next time you think you need more stability, determine where you need the stability.
Cushioning isn’t Cushioning – Imagine standing on two bricks. One brick is flat; the other is molded exactly to your foot’s shape. Which will feel softer? Even though two things are made of identical materials, they don’t always feel the same. Often people will ask what the softest shoe is. There is no one clear answer for this; it depends on the foot. Correct size, width, flexibility, and contour for the individual foot will increase the inherent cushioning. Focus more on properly fitting your foot, and the cushioning should fall into place. Many custom-made orthotics are quite hard. If the mold is taken correctly and the orthotic is fabricated correctly, a hard orthotic feels like pillows on your feet. Done incorrectly, the rigidity of the orthotic emerges and is uncomfortable. There are certain insoles that work to develop more contact on your foot. This leads to a very soft feel every time, though they lack significant support. So, when you think you need more cushioning, think again.