The quest to find comfortable sneakers is no walk in the park. The vast array of styles – literally hundreds – makes it easy to get off on the wrong foot. To get the right fit, experts recommend that you consider the type of arch you have and the activity you’ll be wearing the shoes for. “As soon as the weather warms up, everyone comes out of the woodwork and starts doing more exercise,” says Dr. Lori Weisenfeld, a Manhattan sports medicine podiatrist. “They get new injuries or they renew old ones. And some of these sports injuries are related to not wearing the right shoe. Ill-fitting shoes can cause blisters, black toenails, achy backs and achy legs.
” Start by checking your arch, she suggests. If yours is high, you need a shoe with more cushioning. If you have flat feet or collapsed arches, she says, you should aim for a shoe that offers more support. And if you’re not sure which type of foot you have, step into the pool or shower, then make a footprint on the sidewalk. If the entire footprint is filled in, chances are you have flat feet. Another way to check is by standing up when you are barefoot and looking at your feet. If there’s space between the floor and your foot, you have a high arch. But if that arch disappears when you stand up, you tend toward flat feet. MATCH THE STYLE TO THE SPORT It’s also important to consider the activity you’ll be doing when you wear the shoes. Most people tend to buy a running shoe and then use it for everything, increasing the risk of injury, says Dr. Howard Palamarchuk, director of sports medicine at Temple University’s School of Podiatric Medicine. “Even though it looks gimmicky, shoes are built for specific activity,” he says. “If you take a tennis shoe and try to run marathons, you won’t have the right cushioning.
” So if you’ve signed up for aerobics classes at the local gym, buy aerobic shoes, which contain more cushioning. If you play tennis, buy tennis shoes since they provide more lateral support. If you’re a runner, buy running shoes – they offer more cushioning than a walking shoe. Conversely, if you wear sneakers mainly for walking, invest in a walking shoe, Weisenfeld says. “You don’t need quite as much cushioning in a walking shoe as you do with a running shoe,” she explains. “When you walk, you strike the ground with one to one and one half times your body weight but when you run, you strike the ground with three times your body weight. Very often, a running shoe has a firmer heel and more support in the midsole than a walking shoe. And running shoes are generally made with reflective gear for safety.
” SIZING UP THE SNEAKERS The time of day, you buy your shoes also can make the difference between comfort and misery, Weisenfeld says. Always go shoe shopping in the late afternoon or evening because your feet tend to swell as the day goes on. When you try on a pair of sneakers, walk around the store to see how they feel. Next, determine if they are too big or small. Check that you have enough space by inserting your thumb between your heel and the back of the shoe. You should be able to insert the thumb easily. Then, press your thumb down on top of the shoe near the toes. There should be a thumb’s width between the end of the shoe and your longest toe, says Weisenfeld. A too-big shoe means that you could slide forward and bruise your toenail, so if the shoe feels very loose, don’t buy it. If you’re not sure whether a sneaker offers more in the way of support or more in the way of cushioning, look at the midsole, which is the bottom of the shoe in the middle. Try bending the sneaker slightly to see how far you can compress it. “If the midsole is very soft and easily compressed with your thumb, this is a very cushiony shoe,” Weisenfeld says. “A shoe that has a reinforced inner portion of the arch and a firm heel counter, which is the back of the shoe, is a better bet if you are looking for support and stability.
” Finally, if you’re trying to save money but want to get a well-made shoe, consider buying last year’s model, Weisenfeld says. “Every year, the shoe companies come out with new models of shoes,” she says. “But this doesn’t mean last year’s isn’t a good shoe. You can get some great buys on last year’s model.”