One of the things we stress a lot to our patients, especially those who are physically active, is to make sure they’re replacing their shoes frequently enough. Even the most durable sneakers wear out over time (perhaps 300-500 miles), and wearing worn-out footwear increases your injury risk substantially.
That said, before you toss them in the garbage bin, it’s worth taking one last look at those old tennis shoes. They might have some surprising things to tell you about your feet, and can help you make the next pair you choose a good one.
Analyzing How Shoes Break Down
You’ve no doubt noticed that shoes get beaten up and worn out over time. Uppers bulge, midsoles compress, and treads smooth out.
But you’ll also notice that shoes don’t wear evenly. Treads on some parts of the sole may have worn down completely, while other spots show medium wear and others may look almost factory-new. Furthermore, your wear patterns may be quite different from a neighbor’s or a friend’s, due to the fact that your unique foot structure and/or biomechanical gait may create different “pressure points” than those of someone else.
Learning to read and analyze these wear patterns can help you identify any potential problems with your foot health, as well as help you figure out what kind of shoe might work best for you.
The Gold Standard: Neutral Wear
If you have a “normal” or neutral pronation pattern, the areas of most significant wear on the treads will tend to be located toward the outside of the heel and across the middle of the ball of the foot and under the big toe. This is because, in a biomechanically efficient walking gait, you strike the ground first with the outside of your heel and push off with your toes. This wear pattern doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t or won’t have any foot problems, but it is good evidence of a healthy stride.
What Are Your Shoes Trying to Tell You?
Shoe wear patterns that deviate too far from a neutral pattern may indicate a structural defect or gait imbalance that needs to be addressed. For example, ask yourself:
Is the wear concentrated along the outer edge of the shoe? You might underpronate (also known as supination) and/or have high arches. People with this gait pattern are at higher risk of stress fractures, so look for some extra cushioning when you shop.
Is the heel much more worn than the ball of foot area? You might overstride when you run.
Is the ball of foot area much more worn than the heel? There’s a good chance you have overly tight heel tendons. Some stretching and heel raises may help.
Are the wear patterns asymmetrical between left and right shoes? One leg might be longer than the other, or you might be overstriding in one leg.
Are lines forming on the outside of your sole around the heel? Your cushioning is wearing out and needs to be replaced.
Is there a bulge in the upper by the side of the big toe? Your shoes are too narrow! Opt for a pair that gives you some more wiggle room.
Let The Old Shoes Be Your Guide
Before buying a new pair of athletic shoes, uses the clues left by your old sneakers to decide whether you need a different style or some extra help. If you’re showing neutral wear and don’t have any foot pain or problems, you’ve probably found the right setup.