Foot health

16 July 2012

Incorrect shoes the biggest pain for athletes

The biggest cause of foot problems amongst athletes is incorrect shoe wear, warns the Podiatry Association of South Africa (PASA).


The biggest cause of foot problems amongst athletes is incorrect shoe wear, warns the Podiatry Association of South Africa (PASA).

Fortunately, however, this is something that is easy to remedy, explains PASA’s Nelfrie Kemp. “When it comes to running, for example, the most important component of a running shoe is the midsole. That is where all the technology goes into and that’s what you pay for. A cross-trainer will not offer you as much cushioning and shock-absorption as a running shoe, which is why I always advise patients to buy a running shoe, even if they are cross-training”, says Kemp.

Fitting sports shoes

Kemp advises that when fitting any sport shoes, they must be one size bigger than your normal shoe size, as your feet swell and elongate when you exercise. It is best to fit a shoe towards the end of the day and try the shoes on with the socks that you would usually wear with the shoe, walking around the shop in them. Ladies with a broad foot should buy a men’s running shoe as it provides extra width. There should be a thumbs width between your longest toe and the top of the running innersole when standing on it.

Anti-pronation vs. neutral shoes

As mentioned, the most important part of a sports shoe is the midsole. Neutral shoes have the same density midsole throughout, while an anti-pronation shoe has a more dense material on the inside of the shoe over the heel, arch area or from the heel to the toes.

“If a runner wears an anti-pronation shoe incorrectly it can cause knee pain, shin splints, blisters and ankle pain, amongst others”, warns Kemp. “That is why it is important to consult with a podiatrist who can assess your feet and advise you on the correct shoe.”

Which brand should I buy?

It is best to try on various brands before choosing a shoe, and base your choice on comfort -not colour, cost or fashion.


It is best to use sport socks that have the same thickness throughout. Thick socks or socks with a thicker sole take up more space inside the shoe and can cause pins and needles or a burning sensation in the feet.


Shoes should be laced properly as tight lacing can cause a burning sensation or numbness, extensor tendinitis or various other foot problems. If tied too loosely, they will cause more movement of the foot inside the shoe. There are various lacing techniques which a podiatrist can assist with.

When to replace my shoes?

Athletic shoes should be replaced once a year or every 800 – 1000km. Your body will also start telling you when you need new shoes, as old shoes can cause knee pain, shin splints and other problems. The midsole is the first part of the shoe that starts to deteriorate and collapse, which is when the shoe should be replaced. An untrained eye cannot always identify a collapsed midsole however - in most cases the outer sole and upper of the shoe is still perfect by the time it needs to be replaced. If the outer sole of your shoe wears excessively, you are either wearing the wrong shoe, your shoes are old, or there is a biomechanical abnormality. An outer sole should never be patched using shoe-patch - there is a reason for excessive wear on the outer sole so the cause must be treated.

How to care for your shoes

Wear your shoes only for the purpose they were designed. Store shoes in a cool dry place, ensuring that the innersoles dry properly as well. Do not dry shoes in direct sunlight, the tumble dryer or with a hair dryer, as these methods damage the midsole and other materials used in the shoe. When cleaning your shoes, do not immerse them in water or place them in the washing machine. The correct way to clean shoes is to stuff the shoe with newspaper or a towel and wash the upper of the shoe, wipe the midsole and wash the outer sole with a brush.

Orthotics and running innersoles

Biomechanical problems that are linked to the feet are often corrected with an innersole modification or an orthotic. Orthotics are custom-made moulds of your feet which are usually prescribed and fitted by a podiatrist after a thorough biomechanical examination.

“When fitting orthotics, a great deal of care needs to be taken. Orthotics that are not fitted correctly or worn in often cause a great deal of pain and discomfort. Always consult with your podiatrist if you are not comfortable with your orthotics. Do not hide them in the cupboard – when fitted properly they do wonders”, concludes Kemp.

For more information on how to keep your feet healthy, visit

(The Podiatry Association of South Africa, July 2012) 

(Picture: Running shoes from Shutterstock)

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