Posted by Jenn F. on Tuesday, November 6th, 2012
We talk a lot about running here. That’s understandable–many people run, and many of those people who run worry a lot about their feet, and if you’re worried about your feet, this is the place to be!
It’s time we take a moment, though, to give a shout out to a much more common activity that often doesn’t get enough respect: walking. For many people, walking is the first step (pun not intended…well, maybe) in a fitness program. If you’re not used to exercise or haven’t done anything in a while, a simple walking regimen, whether indoor or outdoor, is a great way to get started.
As with any activity, though, it helps to have the right equipment. For walking, your most important piece of equipment is a good pair of shoes (though a pedometer is an accessory that can inspire you). So let’s talk about choosing walking shoes!
Yes, walking shoes–it’s always important to wear the right shoes for the right activity, and that includes walking. Whether you’re walking for fitness or on vacation taking a long night walk to discover exotic creatures, there are certain characteristics you should look for in walking shoes.
Running or Walking Shoe? No, the differences between walking and running shoes aren’t huge. However, while you really shouldn’t run in walking shoes, you can walk in running shoes, especially if you choose them carefully.
Shoe Weight Running shoes are built to absorb the high impact of your body’s weight as you rapidly pound your feet into the ground. Therefore, they tend to be heavier than walkers need them to be; shoes that are too heavy can wear your legs out faster than really necessary. On the other hand, minimalist running offer too little cushioning and support for anyone who is planning to walk longer distances on a regular basis. Look for shoes that are in between–lighter than some of the heavily-cushioned, super-structured running shoes, but with more support and shock absorption than “barefoot running” shoes.
Heel Height It also matters where the cushioning and support is in the shoe. A walking stride begins with a heel strike (check out this video about proper walking form if you’re not sure you’re walking at your best). A runner may strike anywhere from the front or top of their heel (near the midfoot) to the midfoot to the forefoot . Therefore, running shoes tend to have a heel that’s built a little higher, with some being higher than others. If you’re buying shoes primarily for walking, but you’re in the running department, look for shoes where there is a minimal amount of difference between the height of the heel and the toe. It can be hard to tell from the outside of the shoe, though, so if you’re unsure, talk to an employee in a good running store and say you’re looking for a zero “heel-to-toe dropoff,” or a minimal one, like a 12 mm dropoff. “Heel-to-toe dropoff is also known as “heel-toe offset” or “heel-toe differential,” so use whichever term gets a light of recognition from the person you’re talking to. Here’s a good explanation of the heel drop topic; it’s geared towards runners but can still help walkers.
Heel Shape If you look at a typical pair of running shoes, you may notice that the heel on the sole is flared, meaning it spreads out a little bit. This is to add extra stability for runners, especially those who are forefoot and midfoot strikers. Walkers, on the other hand, primarily use their heels, so a flared heel can actually get in the way of a good walking stride. Instead, walkers should look for shoes with undercut heels, where the heel of the sole actually narrows or tapers in a bit as it reaches toward the ground.
Flex in the front Many so-called “walking shoes” tend to have stiff soles, but this is a mistake–walkers do need flexible shoes, just as long as it’s flexible in the right place. Most running shoes flex in the middle, or at the arch of the foot. Walkers push off with their toes, though, so they should look for shoes that flex, or bend, in the forefoot. It’s easy to figure this out–just pick up a shoe and see where it bends easily.
As noted earlier, you’ll be fine walking in most running shoes; these are just some tweaks to look out for to give yourself the optimal walking experience. The main thing to keep in mind is that your feet shouldn’t hurt, other than a normal, “Wow, that was a great, long walk” achiness. If you feel pain in your foot from walking, especially pain that increases when you walk, see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) to find out what’s going on–you might have an injury, or you may just be having gait problems that can be corrected with exercises or orthotics. Take care of foot pain early so you can get back on the road!
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.