What Advice Do Physical Therapists Offer About Athletic Shoes?

I recently had total hip replacement surgery.  My hip joint had deteriorated badly due to arthritis and dysplasia, which is a shallow or misshaped hip joint.

An important part of my recovery included several professional physical therapy sessions, along with some targeted exercises that I had to do regularly on my own.  On my first visit, one of the physical therapists asked if I was bored yet since I couldn’t drive or get out much while recuperating.

So I told her that between napping and doing my therapy, I had actually been working on this website. 

She seemed intrigued, and I noticed that she had on a very comfortable-looking pair of athletic shoes.  She said she loved being able to wear them to work because she was on her feet all day.  She also mentioned that many of her patients do not realize the importance of a good pair of supportive and comfortable athletic shoes.

It occurred to me that a physical therapist’s point of view would be helpful to share with people. 

So if you’re not sure what features to look for when choosing athletic shoes, or why the right shoes are important for your health, keep reading!

Your Feet Are Your Foundation

Shelley Black is a PTA (physical therapy assistant) and clinical instructor working in Michigan.  PTA’s help patients regain strength and movement after illness, injuries, and surgical procedures.  They guide patients through a plan of therapeutic exercise, stretching, and balance training.

Physical therapists have good advice about choosing athletic shoes.

Through her education in exercise science and certification in physical therapy, Shelley learned everything about the body, including the importance of the feet.  She stresses that your feet are the foundation of your body.  They are relatively small in relation to the rest of your body, and they have a lot of work to do to support you through numerous biomechanical functions.

If you don’t have the proper footwear, your feet aren’t going to be able to do their job.  As we age, or if we encounter an injury, our muscles, tendons, and ligaments begin to sag.  Wearing the right shoes can give your feet the support they need to correct problems or at least to slow them down.

“One of the worst things people do is walk around with their shoes untied,” Shelley says.  “I understand that it’s easier to just slip them off and on that way, but if you don’t tie them you defeat the purpose of wearing the shoe.  Athletic shoes are designed to support your feet and pull them into a neutral position.  Even the designs on the sides of your shoes serve a purpose in supporting your feet.”

Shoe Advice

Shelley does not recommend shoes with memory foam because it’s too soft and doesn’t offer enough support.  She says the denser the foam that cushions the shoe, the better support you will have.  If you notice any cracks or breaks in the foam in the midsole of your shoe, it’s time to replace them because they no longer fully support your foot.

She also demonstrated a way to tie a loop through the top eyelet of your shoe to create a heel lock.  This forces your foot back toward the heel of your shoe and makes it more stable.

Heel lock lacing makes your athletic shoes more stable.Heel lock lacing

When Shelley shops for athletic shoes for herself, she tries to keep an open mind and doesn’t always stick with the same brand.  Just because it worked before doesn’t mean it will always be the best.  She has found that some brands wear out more quickly than others, so she tries different brands from time to time.  Most recently she has been wearing Brooks, Nike, Asics, and New Balance.

Even though she is an educated medical professional, Shelley says she still consults with experts at specialty athletic shoe stores for their advice.  “Yes, the proper shoes can be more expensive,” she says.  “But your feet are so important to the function of the rest of your body.  It’s worth the price to save yourself from medical problems in the future if you don’t take care of your feet.”

Tips From Other Physical Therapists

Here are some additional recommendations from other physical therapists regarding proper athletic shoes:

  • Shoes should provide adequate support.
  • The heel should feel stable when you walk or run.
  • Shoes should bend in the toe box, not in the middle of the shoe.
  • Height of the heel should be the same across the shoe.
  • Shoes should offer arch support for whatever foot type you have.
  • Different shoes are important for different sports and activity levels.
  • Shoes should be replaced when they become worn or do not offer proper support.

Related: Podiatrist Shoe Advice

  1. Athletic Shoe Review
  2. Choosing the Right Shoes
  3. Physical Therapist Shoe Advice