Your feet are incredible. They support your entire body to stand, walk, run, and jump. With the help of your brain, they adjust for different elevations, terrains, and activities. Every day, your feet take 6,000 to 8,000 steps—that’s nearly 115,000 miles in an average lifetime.
Since your feet do so much, it’s important to ask if your shoes do a good job of protecting them. We asked two experts at Kettering Health Network what they recommend when it comes to choosing the best shoes for young athletes. Ken Foster, DPM, is a doctor of podiatry, and Safet Hatic, DO, FAOAOM, is an orthopedic surgeon.
What kinds of problems can poorly fitting shoes cause in teenagers?
Dr. Foster: When athletes aren’t wearing the right shoes, they might not notice problems right away. But over time, the wrong shoes can cause wear and tear that harms the joints, bones, ligaments, and tendons. Common issues include hip, knee, and heel pain, Achilles tendon injuries, ankle sprains, and general pain. These will affect any athlete’s performance.
What should athletes look for in an athletic shoe?
Dr. Hatic: When you are looking for athletic shoes, you have to think about all kinds of features that affect performance, including tightness, traction, cushioning, and fit. Buying the right shoes for each individual sport is important as well. For example, a basketball shoe will provide stability required for making sudden stops and changing direction on the court, but will not offer the appropriate cushioning and weight transfer necessary for cross-country running.
Ultimately, I feel the most important component to fitting an athlete in a shoe is his or her personal preference. For example, lightweight, minimalist shoes may be perfect for some runners given their foot and ankle mechanics, but they are not appropriate for all runners. I often find athletes gravitate toward lightweight shoes when they would really benefit from a little more traditional cushioning.
Should athletes get a professional shoe fitting?
Dr. Foster: Many local shoe stores offer a professional fit analysis to find your correct shoe size and width. Some even offer gait analysis to determine what level of support and motion control you need. These services can really help you find shoes that fit your foot and body mechanics best.
Dr. Hatic: These services are especially important for teenage athletes, whose bones are still maturing. Teens’ anatomy and body mechanics can evolve rapidly, requiring careful consideration of their shoe gear to optimize performance.
What about shoe inserts and orthotics?
Dr. Foster: Many of my patients wear orthotics to correct biomechanical foot issues, which can affect how you walk, stand, or run. These orthotics slip inside your shoes and can be beneficial, but they are also very expensive, and not always necessary. Over-the-counter inserts can provide good support and prevent pain, too. I recommend trying over-the-counter options first.
Aside from wearing good shoes, what can teen athletes do to protect their feet?
Dr. Foster: Teens are at risk for injuries to their growth plates, which are areas of growing tissue near the end of long bones. When the growth plates get inflamed, it can cause injuries. To prevent these types of injuries in the feet, it’s important to stretch the calf and thigh muscles before and after you exercise. These muscles extend all the way down to the feet, and keeping them limber and loose protects the growth plates from injury.
What about non-athletic shoe choices, such as flip-flops, sandals, dress shoes, and heels?
Dr. Hatic: Shoes provide a very practical role in protecting our feet, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a fun way to accessorize or express our sense of style. That said, people should consider how fashion shoes or sandals will affect their feet. Shoes always should provide good support and be appropriate for whatever activity a teen has planned.