No one disputes that exercise provides a host of health benefits, from helping control weight to improving cardiovascular function. But exercising in the wrong footwear can cause more harm than good, especially because foot health is integral to overall well-being.
“To get the most out of your workout or from playing a favorite sport, it’s imperative to choose the right footwear for the type of exercise you’ll engage in,” says Steven Gordon, DPM, a podiatrist at Reston, Manassas, and Leesburg foot and Ankle Centers and member of the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). “Improper footwear can lead to irritation and injury.”
Foot or ankle sprains and fractures are the most common types of injuries related to exercise and footwear. The type of exercise or sport you prefer can influence the type of injury you could experience. For example, foot and ankle sprains and fractures are generally more common among football players, while basketball players may suffer more ankle sprains, and runners experience stress fractures to feet or ankles.
APMA offers some guidance on how to avoid foot injury while exercising:
Always warm up before exercise. Just as you stretch to warm up leg and arm muscles, your feet need to warm up gradually too.
If you experience foot pain while exercising or engaging in physical activity, stop immediately. Foot pain is not normal, and you shouldn’t feel any when you exercise. If pain persists even after you stop your workout, see a podiatrist.
Always wear supportive shoes that are appropriate for the type of physical activity you’re engaging in. “Runners need more arch support and cushioning to absorb impact,” says Dr. Gordon, “Basketball players require extra ankle support to prevent injury from side-to-side movement—which is why basketball shoes come up over the ankles.” Choosing the right footwear can help ensure you minimize the risk of injury and enjoy a more productive and comfortable workout.
Don’t go it alone when you’re shopping for a workout or sports shoe. Go to a store that specializes in athletic footwear and ask to be fitted professionally before you buy. Shoes should fit comfortably as soon as you try them on; never assume you’ll “break in” an uncomfortable athletic shoe. Shop toward the end of the day, when feet are at their largest due to normal daily swelling.
Whatever your exercise or sport of choice, your athletic shoes should offer plenty of support in the front and back.
Finally, when athletic shoes begin to show signs of wearing out, it’s time to replace them. “Examine the tread, especially around mid-sole,” adds Dr. Gordon. “Generally, you should replace athletic shoes every year, and running shoes every 300 to 400 miles.”