How to Care for Your Feet

How to Pick Athletic Shoes

When you pick athletic shoes to wear while playing sports or exercising, you are looking for the same attributes as with regular shoes: good traction; cushioning inside the shoe; a soft, porous upper; a firm, snug-fitting heel; a roomy toe box; and overall comfort.

But while these qualities are preferable in regular shoes, they are essential in athletic shoes; the absence of any one can cause pain and even injury.

You must also consider the activity you plan to engage in while wearing the shoes. Basic sneakers may be fine for playing Sunday-afternoon softball or standing in your driveway shooting hoops, but they will not adequately support your feet for more lengthy and strenuous aerobic activities like running or fitness walking. You can find additional information about selecting shoes for specific sports and activities, as well as lists of recommended shoes by activity, at the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine Web site.

Running shoes tend to have especially good traction to prevent slipping, as well as very thick soles to soften the blow delivered to your feet every time they land hard on the ground. You need those features for running.

You don't need them for a walking routine, although you do need a shoe that's sturdier than most sneakers or tennis shoes. Fortunately, because walking has become such a popular fitness exercise in recent years, you can now find a large selection of walking shoes in most shoe and department stores. A good pair will cost you, but it will be worth it.

Consider these tips specifically for choosing walking shoes:

  • The upper of a good walking shoe will be sturdier than that of a regular shoe, but more flexible than that of a running shoe. This is necessary because a walking stride requires more foot flexibility than a running stride.
  • The depth of a walking shoe's tread should also be greater than that of a regular shoe, but less than that of a running shoe in order to provide the traction necessary for a smooth yet stable walking stride. One reason not to do a walking routine in running shoes is that the traction of the latter is so deep it can make you jam your feet (causing toe injuries) and even stumble while walking. Also, the thick soles and stiff uppers of running shoes can make them too heavy and uncomfortable to wear while you are walking.
  • Shoes that have a reinforced toe will help prevent toe injuries and help the toe box of the shoe remain sturdy longer. Most walking shoes will have a slightly raised toe, which helps your foot move more comfortably in the conventional "rocking" motion of a walking stride.
  • Don't assume that you'll buy walking shoes in the same size as your everyday shoes. Take into account the thickness of the sock you expect to wear while walking (and you should wear thick, absorbent socks). It is best to bring the socks along and put them on when you are trying on walking shoes. This way, you won't have to guess at how much room to leave for the socks. Also remember that your feet will probably swell as you walk. It may be helpful to actually do some walking around before you shop for the shoes, to give your feet a chance to swell a bit.
  • A porous upper and an absorbent inner lining are essential in helping to prevent rashes and infection. They can also help your feet to stay cooler, drier, and more comfortable as you walk. You might also want to look for shoes that have a removable, absorbent insole to keep your feet drier and less likely to fall prey to rashes and infections.
  • The sole area under the heel should be slightly thicker than it is under the rest of the shoe, elevating your heel 1/2" to 3/4" above the ball of your foot; this elevation will help prevent tendon and arch strain. Make sure that the heel "collar" (the part above the heel counter) is firm-fitting but well-padded to prevent blisters and that the insole under the heel is well-padded. Inner heel padding is especially important if you plan to walk on a hard surface like a street or sidewalk.
  • Keep in mind that if you plan to do a lot of walking on uneven, rocky terrain, you will need walking shoes that provide more protection and stability. Ask the salesperson to point out styles designed for trail and off-trail walkers.
  • Worn-down shoes are a simple but common cause of pain and injury. So no matter what type of shoes you wear or activity you do, if you exercise regularly, it's a good idea to buy new athletic shoes every four to six months or whenever the tread wears down.

Beyond shoes, there are some additional foot products you may find essential to keeping your feet in top form. Learn how to purchase these foot-care products on the next page.

To learn more about treating and avoiding problems with your feet, visit:

  • Everyday Foot Problems: Discover what causes some of the most commonly encountered foot problems, as well as how to treat or avoid them.
  • Foot Injuries: Learn about common foot injuries and first aid techniques for feet -- from blisters to broken bones -- with this informative article.