Before you head off to Boston’s most popular running routes or join one of the city’s free run clubs, it’s important to make sure you’re wearing the right sneakers for your feet. Foot and ankle injuries are common with runners, but sometimes these issues can be solved by simply choosing the right sneakers. Unfortunately, running sneakers can get pricey, so before you shell out hundreds of dollars on a new pair, it’s important to talk to an expert. We asked Eric Pfalzgraf, assistant manager at Marathon Sports on Boylston St., for his recommendations.
While some pronation—the ankle rolling slightly inward—is actually helpful for absorbing shock, many runners pronate too much. If that’s you, Pfalzgraf says there are two options, the first being a shoe with extra support on the inside. “What you’ll find in most shoes is that they have kind of a gray block on the inside—it’s called a medial post,” he says. “That’s what’s giving you the arch support, so it’s literally just a harder foam that will stop you from rolling in.” Most brands, he says, offer shoes with medial support, but Brooks has the largest variety.
The second option is to convert to “minimalist running,” Pfalzgraf says—and yes, that may mean buying a pair of toe shoes. “With the minimalist idea, it’s if you don’t land on your heel, you land more on the forefoot or the toe, you’re not giving your arch a chance to collapse in,” he explains. “You get a pair of those shoes and you’ll do a quarter of your total running in them for a couple weeks and you increase and increase until you’re good.”
Unfortunately, Pfalzgraf says shin splints may not come with an easy footwear fix. Since the condition is a circulatory issue, he says the first line of attack should be things like icing, wearing compression socks, and draining lactic acid from the legs post-run with elevation. “But sometimes if it’s a chronic issue, it could be because you don’t have enough cushion underneath your feet,” Pfalzgraf says. “Most brands have some form of system that they use to cushion their shoes, so you can go for the higher stuff if you have shin splints that persist.”
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Unlike pronation, which is caused by the arch of the foot, treating weak ankles has nothing to do with support, Pfalzgraf says. Instead, look for a shoe that can’t be bent, like one with a harder sole. “You go for a stiffer shoe, not necessarily a supportive shoe,” he says. “You’ve got to have it rigid.”
Pfalzgraf says that the shape of your shoe should match the shape of your foot, which is determined by the arch. “For lower arch people, you want a very wide, straight [bottomed] shoe,” he says. “It should almost look like a rectangle on the bottom, because if you think about it, the lower your arch gets the more area it takes up on the bottom, so you want almost 100 percent ground contact.”
Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonitis
Again, Pfalzgraf says there’s no one-stop shopping for these conditions. “Usually with those ones it’s not necessarily shoes, but there is a school of thought now that almost all injuries, if you switch over to that minimalist style of running over the long haul, that’s going to help a whole lot with any type of injury, really,” he says, recommending Vibram and Newton as good brands.