Back to School Shoe Shopping

Do you dread trying to find the right shoe for your kids? Do you hate shopping for your own shoes because you have trouble finding “the one”? I’ll share some pointers on what to look for.

Here’s a little personal experience story first.

Many years ago when I was a freshman in high school, I was a competitive swimmer for several years. This was going to be my first time joining the track team and my friends all ran long distance. Swimming is a high intensity non-weight bearing sport and there is less stress on the joints compared to a sport that is weight-bearing.T he weather wasn’t warm or dry enough outside for training, so our coaches had us run 5 miles inside our school where we would go up and down stairs between levels. Then following that they had us do single-leg jumps up the bleachers. Can you imagine what happened next? If only I knew then what I know now.

After the first week of practice I started having the WORST pain imaginable in my shins. Running was painful, walking was painful, even brushing my shins was painful. I developed medial shin splints from too much stress on the tendon-bone junction. While I had the stamina to run from so much swimming, I had trained too hard too quickly and became inflamed. It didn’t help that the shoes I wore weren’t supportive for me either (N***s I’m looking at you!) My mother and I looked for a more supportive shoe for me: enter Asics. I began wearing these Asics everyday to school and wore them for any activities where I needed to be on my feet. I stopped long distance running, and picked up pole vaulting instead. It took me 4 months to recover while still participating in mild activity, and for the past 11 years I've worn Asics. I’ve since switched to Brooks, which I love!

So here’s what you’ve been waiting for.

Make sure first and foremost you, or your kids, try on multiple pairs of shoes. Don’t pick it because it’s pretty and that's what your friends wear. Trust me, just because your friend wears Mizunos doesn’t mean they’ll support your feet. There are generally 3 types of feet: neutral, pronators, and supinators. Feet that pronate roll to the inside of the sole. Feet that supinate tend to roll to the outside of the sole. Look at a well worn pair of your shoes and compare them to the photos below to help you figure out what kind of shoe is needed. Running shoes aren’t just for running- they can be a great walking or everyday shoe.

neutral wear pattern on the sole of a shoe
A normal neutral wear pattern is evenly worn across the forefoot and slightly more outer wear of the heel than the inside heel.

Crumpling of the inside of a shoe, seen on feet that tend to pronate
The top shoe has crumpling of the upper on the inner side of the shoe, showing a tendency of this person's foot to pronate. When being worn it can look like the shoe’s upper is pulling or leaning to the inside. Bottom-most arrow shows wear on the inside of the sole.

A supinated foot has greater wear across the outside of the sole and can occur with crumpling of the outside of the shoe’s upper.

One shoe has a supinator pattern on the sole of the shoe. Bottom shoe has a more neutral wear pattern.
The top shoe has a wear pattern most resembling what you would see with a foot that tends to supinate. The bottom shoe has a more neutral wear pattern since you can see wear on both the inside and outside of the sole.

If you are feeling lost, check out Brooks’ Shoe Finder quiz:

I’ve found it to be really accurate. Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by Brooks, I just like their shoes.

After finishing the quiz, it’ll suggest which of their shoes to wear. They label their shoes as pronation, supination, or neutral and can help you determine what kind of shoes will be a good fit. Several other brands label their shoes by what they’ve been designed to support.

Specialty shoe stores usually educate their staff on the different types of shoes, benefits, and technologies that different companies use. If you are looking to run marathons or you have a child who chooses to run for their sport, visiting a store like this might be a good idea if you've had trouble finding a good shoe. The store FleetFeet has appointments for fittings. So, now you've found the right type of support for your foot, make sure the rest of it fits correctly.

General Shoe Fitting

  1. Take a lap around the store.
  2. Does it feel comfortable in general? Squishy enough/too hard? If it's not comfortable it's unlikely it will be worn regularly. And if you're spending a good chunk of money on it you don't want it to sit in the closet.
  3. Is there enough space across the forefoot, referred to as the toebox. If you feel it rubbing across the sides or feels too snug, then you need a shoe that is wider here.
  4. When laced up snugly, the heel should not slip.
  5. Then make sure the shoe is long enough by lifting up the big toe in the shoe so it touches the top of the upper. Using your thumb, make sure the toes aren't all the way at the front of the toebox. The width of one adult finger is generally a good measure to go by. If the shoe is too long, the front of the shoe will catch on the ground during the toe-off stance of walking/running, resulting in tripping.
  6. Check to make sure the toebox bends right under the toes: when you stand on the ball of your toes, this is the flex point you need to match up for it to be a comfortable shoe. The black pair of Doc Martens at the left has a bend pattern across the toebox.

I hope this post has been helpful to learn the basic of finding a well-fitting shoe. A good shoe can make a huge difference in foot health and can even help prevent some injuries by being supportive.

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The content contained in blog posts are for general information and advice and is not an establishment of a doctor-patient relationship. While we strive to bring you information based on evidence and from practice experience, please consider the information shared at your discretion.