Updated 31 January 2020

Choose the right sports shoe

Choosing the right sports shoe is vital to prevent injury and optimise performance. But how do you go about it? A podiatrist gives some good tips.

Many sports involve a number of dynamic movements of the lower limb. These movements are performed at speed, with forces many times that of your body's weight being transmitted through the bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles of the foot and leg.

Choosing the appropriate sport shoe is vital to prevent injury and optimise performance. But how do you go about it? Podiatrist Dallas Fell offers the following pointers:

  • Wear a shoe that fits. Wear the correct shoe for the activity. It is often tempting, for example, to run in cross trainers or play tennis in running shoes due to the cost involved. However, the sport shoes of today are designed for a specific function and are not suitable for use in a variety of sports. Buying more than one pair of shoes can be costly but will prove less expensive than facing the pain and cost of treating a sports injury.
  • Quick sports – lateral support. Sports that involve sudden acceleration or deceleration as well as rapid direction changes such as squash or tennis require a shoe with more lateral support. These shoes are designed for this purpose and will provide protection from ankle injuries as well as increased traction on the playing surface.
  • Cross trainers – different applications. Cross trainers are, as the name suggests, hybrid shoes that are ideal for use in the controlled environment of the gym. In this environment running is normally done on a treadmill that offers a consistent flat surface as well a degree of cushioning. This means that the extra support and cushioning of a purpose built running shoe is not required. The shoe is therefore designed to adapt to a number of different applications.
  • Taking a hike. Hiking is an excellent example of an activity that requires specialised footwear. The rugged and unpredictable terrain as well as the extra weight of a rucksack means that boots have to offer a very high level of support to the foot and ankle. The impact of descent can cause severe knee and ankle pain so boot need to offer a high level of cushioning. The distances covered and the duration of the hike means that the boot should offer not only support but comfort as well.
  • Don't run the risk of the wrong shoe. Running is a very popular activity and a great deal of care should be taken in choosing the correct shoe. Sports shoe stores have a bewildering array of running shoes, making choosing the correct model a real challenge. Don’t be afraid to seek professional advice. Most good sport shoe stores have trained staff to assist you. It is important to know what distance you intend to run as well the surface you are most likely to run on. Choose a shoe that works best for your foot type. For example, people with a tendency to pronate more should choose an anti-pronation shoe. For best results, consult your podiatrist who will assess your foot type and advise you accordingly.
  • Be sized up regularly. The size and fit of the shoe is of paramount importance, regardless of the sports activity undertaken. Don’t assume you know your shoe size! Foot size changes in time and it is likely that feet will continue to increase in size during your lifetime. Shoes should be tried on in the afternoon as feet have a tendency to swell during the day. Your feet should be properly assessed for width as well as size. Different brands are often available in varying widths so take this into account when choosing a brand.
  • Don't buy in a rush. Don’t rush into buying shoes. An incorrect shoe can not only reduce performance levels and detract from the enjoyment of the sport but cause painful injuries as well. Speak to friends and associates who participate in the same sport and ask their advice. Take time to try on as many pairs as possible, get to know the advantages and disadvantages of particular shoes before committing to a particular pair.

(Dallas Fell, registered podiatrist with the H.P.S.C.A)

South African Podiatry Association (SAPA)

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