Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How should running shoes actually fit?

I'm narrow, with no arch, and every time I buy shoes they feel great in the store, but when I get home...

"There's the size shoe you can put
your foot into, and there's the size
shoe you should put your foot into."
- Max F.
Accuracy in the shoe fit process can eliminate a poor investment in a tool (running shoe) that's designed to protect the runner, or walker, from being run over by the terrain. Each individual has different needs, some need alignment, others need a high volume shoe. Some don't need alignment, and some want to run with as little as possible between their foot and the ground. The specific bio-mechanics and comforts of each person are important characteristics addressed during the fit process. A running shoe should never function in a way that negatively interferes with natural foot function. The running shoe is designed to be an absorbing, protecting, and supplemental medium between foot and ground. Not something that's painful, injury causing, and menacing. 

Do I really need to run (walk) on the treadmill?

The first step in any shoe fitting needs to take into account an individuals foot alignment. The ankle is a diarthroses joint. Diarthroses joints can move freely and have high ranges of motion. While we're not going to get too deep into the anatomical classification of joints, there are some key terms to understand about foot mechanics:

Supination is inversion and abduction of the foot. Supination occurs when the foot makes contact with the ground and 'rolls' outward.

Pronation is eversion and adduction of the foot. Pronation occurs when the foot makes contact with the ground and 'rolls' inward. This is the most common type of foot movement.

Note: Over-pronation is a self-defined industry term that isn't an actual anatomical movement. The foot has the ability to roll outward or roll inward. The degree at which the foot moves in either direction does not have it's own classification. The degree at which the foot pronates, however, does have a bearing on the type of shoe that will be most suited for the individual.

Each person either pronates or supinates and it's important to align the individuals specific foot movement with a shoe that is designed for their alignment. The issue is extremely important in terms of reducing the risk of impact injuries related to poor alignment. The first step of the fit process is to run or walk on a treadmill. This allows the fitter to determine your foot alignment. The reason The Balanced Athlete video records the treadmill process is because it allows not only the fitter to visually slow down each step and make an appropriate analysis, it also allows you, the runner or walker, to see exactly what your doing. The more you understand about your own mechanics the more you'll be able to improve them.

My feet go numb when I run, and I get lots of blisters on my long runs...

Once you've run, or walked, on the treadmill it's time to take measurements to ensure that your foot aligns properly with the shoe. But first, some key terms:

Dorsiflexion is when the toes are raised toward head. (Think, lifting your foot off the gas pedal in your car.) Dorsiflexion occurs during the forward movement of the foot during the swing phase of the gait cycle. Basically, when your foot moves forward to take the next step it's dorsiflexed so your toes don't drag the ground.

Plantar Flexion is when your foot is flexed so that your toes point away from your head. (Think, pressing the gas pedal in your car.) Plantar Flexion allows your foot to 'toe-off' (push-off) the ground. This movement enables forward propulsion during running or walking.

Men's, Women's, and Kid's
Brannock Devices
Brannock Device is the industry standard tool for measuring a persons foot. It provides heel-to-toe, heel-to-ball (arch length), and width measurements to ensure the correct size.

Shoes are designed to provide a shock absorbing medium between your foot and the ground. Shoes take into account foot alignment (pronation or supination), overall length, width, and arch length. When a shoe is properly fit all of the special features in the shoe, placed for comfort, will align with the needs of the foot.

Shoes need to bend, or flex, at the same place the foot bends (ball of the foot). To align the bending place of the shoe and foot a heel-to-ball (arch length) measurement is taken. This measurement can be different between two people even if their foot length (heel-to-toe) is the same.

Click to Enlarge.
Toe length: 9 Arch length: 10
Click to Enlarge
Toe length: 6 Arch length: 6.5
Example: Three people measure heel-to-toe a men's size 9. Person A, however has an arch length of a men's size 10 and Person B has an arch length of a men's size 9.5 and Person C has an arch length of a men's size 9. What this means is that Person A will fit most properly in a size 10.5, Person B a 10, and Person C a 9.5. The reason each person's shoe size is at least a half-size up is because swelling and foot expansion upon impact need to be taken into account. Some shoes may fit a little different size wise, as well, so always be sure to try the shoe on. If the foot is being squeezed during impact it turns the foot into a rigid platform. The more rigid a structure the less shock it will be able to absorb and dissipate. (Think, ceramic tile being dropped. No flex in the tile results in shattering.) The added stress of the foot being squeezed can result in, numb toes, plantar fasciitis, blisters, bunions, metatarsal fractures, and a lot of other foot injuries than can be avoided by wearing the correct size. 

Will the extra room in the toe box cause me to trip, or get blisters because of how long it is?

The difference between a full size of a shoe (Example: Women's 10 and Women's 11) is 1/3 of an inch. not an inch, which seems to be most commonly assumed. So, the extra length of the shoe is small enough that, no, you will not trip over the end of the shoe. The extra room in the shoe can feel unusual to most people, if they've been in a shoe that has been more restricting than necessary, but the room will help ensure the foot can function naturally.

Note: Most people in wide shoes don't need wide shoes. Not all, but most.

Many times the shoe will cause blisters if it's too small. Specifically on the tips and on the outside of the big toe and little toe. When the foot is squeezed it will have a tendancy to rub the foot and form a blister. Also, if you're wearing cotton socks you'll be more prone to developing a blister. Cotton isn't a bad fabric, but because cotton saturates quickly and doesn't 'breath' it will hold in the sweat and bunch. The bunching will form between the shoe and foot and cause hot spot blisters. Make sure to wear a synthetic blend or wool sock. The synthetic and wool socks will allow moisture to pass from the foot to the shoe (always made of moisture wicking fabrics) and help decrease heat and moisture build-up.

My toe nails turn black and sometimes fall off. Why?

Black nails are caused when the nail bed of the toe becomes bruised. The bruising will cause swelling and sometimes cause the toe nail to fall off. The bruising is, generally, caused from the toes hitting the front of the shoe. Extremely steep downhill running can aggravate this scenario, but most bruising is caused from the shoe being too small. When the shoe is too small the toe nails constantly hit the end of the shoe, the repeated irritation with result in bruising, which will swell the nail bed and may cause the toe nail to fall off.

To prevent the black toe nails, make sure you measure the arch length of your foot and the toe length and go up about a half size, sometimes a full size. The extra room will allow your foot to swell and expand upon impact.

My heel slips in shoes that feel too big.

If your foot falls out of the shoe, yes, it may be too big. However, some movement in the shoe is appropriate. The volume that shoes will hold differ among styles. Each brand has different types of shoes and each style will fit differently. Not all the styles in one brand will fit the same. Each different style will also address different alignments. To determine whether or not the shoe fits the type of volume your foot will take up look at the laces. Generally the width of the laces on top of the shoe be about two fingers width apart. Too close and the volume of your foot is not filling up the amount of volume the shoes is designed to handle. Too far apart and the volume of your foot is larger than the volume the shoe is designed to handle.

My legs are different lengths will a shoe address this?

Differences in leg length, that are doctor diagnosed, may require a special insert to help correct the difference. The inserts that are customized will, generally, fit into running shoes. It's important to take out the insole that comes with the shoe first. Inserts take some time to settle into the shoes, so if your heal feels a little bit higher than normal give it some time.

To summarize...

  1. Determine foot alignment.
  2. Measure foot arch length, heel-to-toe length, and width.
  3. Find a shoe that matches the volume and shape of your foot.
Take these three steps a little more in-depth by having someone fit you properly and you'll reduce your risk of getting injured, blisters, lost toe nails, numb feet, and foot pain during and after runs. If you have any questions please leave us a comment.

Next week's blog will focus on Group Runs. Post your questions here, or on our Facebook page


Pam said...

Such great info, thank you!

I never know what it is I don't know until I know it, ya know? :)

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