Learn the keys to understanding when to get a new pair of running shoes.
As a Physiotherapist at ATUNE in Newcastle, we see runners frequently who require treatment for their various injuries as they arise. The hot topic of conversation is often around footwear. Being a runner, I know firsthand how enticing a new set of running shoes are - especially the refreshing feeling that a new pair can provide after running on a worn-out pair a tad too long!
But how do we know when our shoes are ready to be hung up for good, or when they should become the next pair of garden shoes? Generally speaking, there are a few quick questions I go through and tests I’ll perform to someone’s running shoes to determine if they are in need of replacing.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive analysis of a shoe, and doesn’t take into account individual circumstances. However, it’s a good quick check to try on your shoes to see how they’re faring.
The Running Shoes Check
1. How many kilometers have you run in them?
It doesn’t have to be exact. Whilst some people record down to the meter, just a ballpark figure gives a good idea. For example, most shoes have a lifespan of about 500km, assuming you’re not over the top with the terrain, such as trail running. If your estimate is well over 500km, it is the first indicator that they may be on their way out.
2. The general appearance of the shoe
This is the first thing we’ll check. Simply put, how do they look? Are there holes in the top of your shoe where your toe sticks out? Is the padding around the heel gutted and long gone? Is there any tread left underneath or is it as smooth as a marshmallow? While it seems common sense, I know for myself, I’ve often not taken notice to the shoes I’ve been wearing day in and day out; it would take my wife to point out the obvious that they were on their last legs.
3. The final two aspects we check then are the stability and cushioning.
Regardless of the design and technologies the shoe possesses, at the end of the day these two features of the shoe are what we focus on for the shoe to function as designed.
4. Check cushioning
Have a look at the sole of the shoe (the bottom that separates the foot from the ground below). You can see me point this out in detail in a short video demonstration here (link to video blog). When the cushioning is new and functional, it will have a nice uniform appearance and “spongy” feel when pressed.
However, as the cushioning is compressed over time by the hundreds and thousands of steps the shoes take with you, you can see the compression of the cushioning begin to occur. Visibly, you will see thin lines develop within the sole and when squeezed, it loses the spongy feel we mentioned earlier. If your cushioning is heading this way, it’s the equivalent to the shock absorbers on the car wearing out. You’ll still make your way to where you’re going, however the ride isn’t going to be nearly as smooth, and for runners it means extra forces and stress moving its way up through the legs that can cause injury.
5. The stability of the shoe
For our purposes here, there’s three simple tests we can perform to see if the shoe is stabilizing the foot sufficiently as you run. You can see me demonstrate these tests in my short video here (link to video blog).
Here are another three quick tests which will tell you whether you are in need of a new pair of shoes:
1. Heel Squeeze
Ideally our runner’s foot should have some stability provided by a stiffener in what is known as the “Quarter” of the shoe. Basically, it’s the back of the shoe around the heel. To check if this is functioning, squeeze the back of the shoe between your thumb and index finger. If you squeeze the shoe so that it collapses and your thumb and finger come together, the stiffener is either not present (therefore it may not be an appropriate shoe for lots of running), or it is worn out.
2. Twist Test
How is the arch support of the shoe holding up? This is the basis of the twist test. If a shoe is designed to support the mid foot, then there should be good firmness of the shoe through this section. By grabbing the front and the back of the shoe with both hands, see if you can twist the shoe in half, like you would twist your hands to move the squares on a rubix cube. If your shoe folds and twists in half through the middle, then it is unlikely to be providing stabilization for the arch and mid foot region.
3. Toe Cap test
Without getting deep into the biomechanics of the foot, a shoe, generally speaking, should allow the toes to push off and propel the body forward at the end of the running stride.
To check if the shoe is aiding these natural mechanics, grab the shoe around the top where the toes would sit, and holding the back of the shoe steady, push the toes cap of the shoe upwards as if you were closing a book.
Ideally we would like to see the shoe bend where the ball of the foot would sit in the shoe, just behind the toe cap. If it’s not bending at all, like with the safety work boot, or it is bending too much, then the shoe isn’t aiding the natural running mechanics.
In summary, these are a few quick tests we can perform quickly to screen running shoes for suitability for our runners.
As always, it’s important to consider what the shoe is designed for and what your individual needs are.
A marathon runner will require different running shoes design to a sprinter, and someone with a long history of running and injuries will usually need a different shoe to someone who only runs occasionally as part of their boxing class.
If you’re looking for further information about the specifics you require for your feet, make sure to book in a bio-mechanical assessment with one of our ATUNE Physiotherapist’s to help keep you running better for longer.