How to Choose the Right Running or Walking Shoe

What’s the most important piece of equipment a runner or walker owns? The shoes on his/her feet!

Wearing the correct shoe can actually help prevent many overuse or impact-related injuries. When determining which shoe is right for you, your specific sport or activity, history of injury and foot type are all important factors that need to be considered.

Determining your “foot type”:

  • Pronators — Individuals with low arches/flat feet or arches that drop too much when walking. Pronators should look for a shoe with good heel control.
  • Supinators — Individuals with high arches. Supinators need a shoe with good shock absorption.

If you participate in sports at least three times per week, you need a shoe specific to the sport to protect you from injury. For example, runners need a running shoe, basketball players need a basketball shoe, walkers can use a walking or running shoe.

To better equip your feet, let’s look at the “anatomy” of a shoe:

shoe parts


The mid-sole is the area of the shoe between the bottom (the part of the shoe that contacts the ground) and the insole. The mid-sole provides shock absorption during activity.

Pronators will benefit from a firm, stable mid-sole with increased density on the medial (inner) side of the shoe.

Supinators should choose a shoe with a soft, resilient mid-sole. In general, a darker color on the sole is made of denser material.

Last (Shape)

Best seen by viewing the shoe from its bottom, the last refers to the shape of the shoe. The three types available are curved, semi-curved or straight.

Pronators typically perform best with straight lasts, which offer better support.

Supinators should choose a semi-curved or curved last for more shock absorption.

Inner Last (Construction)

Directly under the insole on the inside of the shoe is the inner last. The three options are board, combination or slip lasting.

Board lasting — Offers a flat, cardboard-like material under the insole, which is effective for a pronator because of its stiffness and ability to provide greater support.

Slip lasting — Characterized by seams of fabric under the insole, it’s preferred for a supinator because of its flexibility.

Combination lasting — Occurs when the heel of the shoe is board last and the ball of the foot is slip last.

Heel Counter

This is the stiff material surrounding the heel portion of the shoe.

For pronators a firm heel counter is especially important in any walking or running shoe to prevent excessive heel motion. The heel counter should be firm and have a snug, glove-like fit. To test stability, try squishing the heel counter with your hand. It should be firm enough to resist your pressure.

Pronators should shop for motion control — their primary concern is stability.

  • Straight last
  • Board last or combination last
  • Firm mid-sole
  • Solid, sturdy heel counter

Supinators should shop for shock absorption – primary concern is cushioning.

  • Curved or semi-curved last
  • Slip last
  • Soft mid-sole
  • Solid, sturdy heel counter

Shoes will break down with or without use — even while quietly sitting on a shelf! As shoes break down, they will no longer support your feet properly.

To prevent injury, it’s important to retire your shoes following these guidelines:

  • Running shoes: Retire after 350 – 500 miles or every eight months
  • Walking shoes: Retire after 500 – 700 miles or every eight months
  • Sport-specific shoes: If worn five or more times per week, replace your shoes every two to three months. If worn two times per week, replace your shoes every six months.

Custom Foot Orthotics May Help

Remember, by choosing and wearing the correct shoe, you can prevent many overuse or common stress-related injuries.

In some cases, the amount of pronation or supination can affect the foot’s function so much that orthotics or custom-made shoe inserts may be required to control faulty foot mechanics and pain.

If you’re having persistent foot or leg pain, even after new shoes, you might be a good candidate for foot orthotics.

If you have persistent foot problems, ask your health care provider about possible solutions. Your provider may suggest you see a podiatrist — a specialist in treating conditions of the foot, ankle and leg.

Aurora Sports Medicine Institutes and select Aurora Rehabilitation Centers offer custom foot orthotics. Trained clinicians will design and fit your orthotics.

Meet the Author

Kathy Simon, PT is a physical therapist located at Aurora Sports Medicine Institute in Mequon, WI.  

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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