Wear Patterns… What do your shoes say about how you run?
Shoes can tell a story about the way you run.
The scuff marks, the holes and the tread wear. Is it just the ‘norm’ for your running mechanics or are you in the wrong shoe?
Go grab a pair of your own shoes while you read Steve The Footman’s interpretation on how to “read your shoes”.
with Steve The Footman
What do your shoes say about how you run?
Your shoes tell a subtle story of how you run. It is more of a mystery novel than a textbook. Wear patterns can leave false clues that distract you from the truth. The story they tell reveals the possible direction and distribution of forces with your running style. How your shoe responds to the treatment you give it reflects the interplay between your structure and function.
There is a reason why we like you to bring in your shoes to show us at our running shop. It helps us analyse what’s going on for you. An accurate reading of your shoes wear patterns can help you choose the best shoe to suit you and predict your future injury risk. We can also predict your likely running style. This might seem like magic but experience has given us some technical mastery. We then confirm our predictions with a quick running gait analysis as you run up and down our track.
The real challenge is connecting what the shoe is showing with what you, the runner, is experiencing.
Wear on the outsole occurs only when there is movement between the shoe and the ground. The majority of forces actually occur while the leg and foot is pivoting or rolling over the fixed shoe. Just looking at the wear can not tell you everything about the forces that are contributing to any problem. How the foot deviates from the ‘norm’ leads you to an understanding of why it happens and how to correct it with a shoe, an orthotic or strengthening exercises.
Every time I see someone’s worn-out shoes my mind quickly jumps through a complex process of evaluation.
I am trying to answer three questions:
- What do the wear patterns tell me about your running style?
- Are there signs of pathological (injury causing) movement patterns?
- Do these shoes suit your running style and support your likely problems?
Grab your shoes… Let’s go over some clues, questions and observations so you can make the best choice for your running.
A thorough footwear analysis can be done very quickly with only the relevant facts collected. Through experience, you can eliminate the signs of normal wear and focus on those that can cause problems. Asking you a few simple questions gives a few extra facts about your running and injury history as well as the history of the shoe and how well it worked Finally, our suspicions can be confirmed while we observe you running in your old shoes or the new ones you are trying on.
There are 4 areas I look at when checking the wear of your shoes.
Each of these are run through a range of thought processes based on the visible clues. Read these with a pair of your own shoes in your hand and see if you can also tell your story.
AREA #1: HOW MUCH WEAR IS THERE?
Mileage & Shoe Age:
Many injuries are merely the result of wearing shoes past their use-by date. I ask people how many kilometres they average per week and then how long they have had their shoes. A quick calculation will give you a close figure even if they have overestimated their mileage or underestimated how long they have had their shoes. 40km a week means 1000kms in 6 months. Anything beyond 1000kms is asking for injury and any shoe beyond twelve months old may have compromised protection regardless of its level of wear.
Cushioning is resistance:
To see if your midsole cushioning is dead you need to check how much resistance still exists in the forefoot midsole. The Dead Shoe test is the easiest way to tell if a shoe has worn. A new shoe will usually have significant resistance to flexion at the front of the shoe when you bend it back the opposite way it normally bends. If the cushioning has gone then it will be easy to flex and you may be able to identify a specific spot that has lost the most cushioning and has the least resistance. Below is a picture showing how you can check this. If you aren’t sure, then come and see our running team. They will check it for you.
YOUR TURN… How old are yours and how far have these gone??
AREA #2 OUTSOLE WEAR
Most people just look at the outsole wear to analyse footwear. But in fact, this wear only occurs while the shoe moves against the ground during footstrike, propulsion or during a pathological action (i.e. injury related movement).
Footstrike is perhaps the most important and misunderstood of these wearing events. The trajectory, velocity and location of footstrike can determine what will happen during the rest of the gait cycle. Of prime importance is the position of the foot at strike and the biomechanics of your individual musculoskeletal system.
Heel Strikers typically land with their foot tilted out with their toe high off the ground. The wear is localised on the outside back edge of the heel. Contrary to many people’s mistaken belief the more you wear on the outside edge of the heel the more you generally will pronate (roll inwards) rather than supinate (roll outwards). Runners who are not in that position at strike and wear evenly on the back of the heel may have problems during forefoot loading as the forefoot slaps onto the ground rather than rolls over it. Heel wear on the inside of the heel is very rare and usually a result of either in-toeing or having the foot rolled inwards at strike.
Midfoot and Forefoot Strikers:
For midfoot and forefoot strikers wear begins to extend on the lateral (outside) border of the outsole. Their toes are not as high off the ground at strike and they tend to land softer taking longer to complete the footstrike part of the gait cycle. This can cause a shearing action that quickly wears the outside edge of the midfoot and forefoot. A softer scuffing strike will wear more than a firm straight strike.
Genetics determines your strike pattern.
The relative strength and flexibility of muscles and joints enable a specific strike pattern. Changing this striking pattern is very difficult and usually leads to increased injury risk. Worse yet are those runners who try to get a forefoot striker’s shoe when they are a heel striker or vice versa. We frequently are referred runners who have been injured after only a week of running in the wrong shoe.
Outsole Wear and Propulsion:
The other major event of outsole wear is propulsion (toe-off). Propulsion starts just before the heel lifts off the ground and finishes when the toe leaves the ground. As its name implies this is when the foot is pushing against the ground to maintain forward momentum. The ideal wear site is underneath the big toe. In this position, you will get the maximum force applied and mechanical advantage through the big toe joint.
There is considerable variation from this ideal.
This variation is often the result of patho-mechanics or injury causing movements.
Pivoting and Toe Blocks. The most common variation involves a circular wear pattern under the forefoot. This is often the result of the big toe locking up when you try to flex at the first big toe joint. Because the foot can not flex under this joint it is forced to pivot to maintain the necessary movement required to achieve toe-off. This pivoting action causes wear under this joint or under the forefoot rather than under the toes. It is hard to know if the foot is pivoting inwards or outwards by just checking the outsole wear. That is when you need someone to analyse your movement and foot structure in more detail.
Excessive pronation causes the inside border of the foot at the arch to collapse. The foot is supposed to resupinate before propulsion leading to toe-off. In a foot that is excessively pronating where the arch is collapsing, arch resupination can’t occur and wear occurs on the medial border (inside edge) of the big toe. Excessive supination will do the opposite with lateral wear at the toes. This is often made worse by a shoe that has too much pronation correction. There are many variations on this and traps for the unwary. Some outsole wear patterns that look like they are obvious turn out to be something totally different when a gait analysis is done.
YOUR TURN… Look at the tread of your shoe… What does your shoe show??
AREA #3 MIDSOLE WEAR – YOUR CUSHIONING
This can seem technical so let’s clear a few terms first… then grab a coffee or hot chocolate and keep reading because these important clues show how your body’s loading patterns when running and its resulting forces can influence your shoe’s wear.
Midsole – The cushioning part of the shoe usually made from an EVA foam with extra cushioning and stability components added.
Resistance – The amount of bending stiffness in the midsole
Compression – The resistance of the midsole (cushioning) to compression is what wears out in the midsole.
Compression set – The permanent compression of the midsole. The compression set indicates something about the magnitude and nature of forces that the midsole has been exposed to.
Torsional or twisting motions will cause much greater midsole wear because they cause stretching of the midsole which it can not cope with as well. A localised loss of resistance will indicate the axis of this torsional motion.
So if you are hypermobile with hips that swing from side to side, then your twisting motion is going increase the strain on your shoe’s midsole.
Force at Footstrike. Peaks of force from specific foot strike positions may cause early destruction of the midsole and can often indicate whether someone is a heel or midfoot striker regardless of what the outsole wear patterns say. While lighter shoes or softer shoes feel good when you first put them on, they will not work if you land excessively hard on the ground.
YOUR TURN… Check your cushioning for soft spots?? Get an old pair or your shoes and your new pair. Test each shoe for it’s resistance by pushing against the bottom of the shoe firmly with your thumb.
P.S… If you aren’t sure, come see my running team at the shop. They know how to tell and will happily show you.
P.P.S. Great work for staying with me!! We’re nearly done, and then you’ll be an expert too!
AREA #4 UPPER WEAR
The uppers can also show signs of deformity.
Tears and creases in the upper materials point to excessive movement in a direction that the shoe is not designed for. This can also be because the shape of the shoe does not match the shape of your foot. The other cause of upper wear is when the swinging leg clips the planted foot. Some of these are biomechanical but many are exacerbated with a shoe that just does not match your unique running style.
Wear on the inside of the shoe, particularly at the heel, indicates an excessive movement of the foot inside the shoe. Heel Counter failure or collapse can be the result of excessive rearfoot (heel) movement. Wearing inside the heel can be a sign that the shoe is not a great match for your running biomechanics and your foot could actually be fighting the shoe. If this is you, then it is definitely worth investigating further with one of our running podiatrists.
The insole wear and how it has moulded or worn is also useful to identify any structural or dynamic problems of the foot. Holes into the fabric, or areas of depression are great clues that your foot is doing some extra unnecessary movement when you are running. These insole clues can be a huge benefit when prescribing both footwear and orthotics.
YOUR TURN… Look inside your shoe and at the upper for any holes or tears??
WHAT TO DO NEXT?
After looking at the shoes you can get a good idea of what kinds of problems you might be at risk of getting as well as your probable running form. The major question you need to ask is… “Are my current shoes supporting my foot-type or has it been contributing to my problems?”
The next logical step is deciding what is the ideal type of shoe to suit your foot-type based on the evidence of the wear patterns left on your old shoes. From there you can go on to safer injury-free running in shoes that feel better and last longer. Of course, you still need to run in them when you are trying them on. Wear patterns are just a surface clue. What the shoe feels like is going to give you an even more accurate ability to choose the right one to make your year of running even more effortless.
Take the time to find the right shoe for you. Look at your wear patterns and feel what it’s like to run in the shoe. Always compare different types, particularly if you have any of the signs above.
My running team in the shop and in our podiatry and physiotherapy clinic understand how to make the connection between your shoe and how you run. They enjoy taking you through the process of trying, testing and working out what shoe will make your running so much more enjoyable.
We love running and even more, we love sharing this passion with you too. So get the right shoe and enjoy every moment you’re running on the road.
The pseudo-pronator and excessive heel wear
I had a client who came to see me complaining of transient shin pain for the last few years. He had finally decided to get some advice because his shoes were not lasting as long as he thought they should. He had been told he was a pronator and had used a severe over-pronators shoe for most of that time. After looking at the wear patterns he was certainly wearing excessively on the outside of the heel although it was extended a bit further forward then normal. There was also a wear pattern in the medial forefoot consistent with pronation.
After seeing him running it looked like he was striking hard in the heel and pronating during propulsion. I started with a lightweight neutral shoe. The heelstrike and the pronation during propulsion disappeared. A significant change was the decrease in sound at footstrike.
After trying on a variety of other shoes it became apparent that the more rearfoot control he had the more he pronated. On examination, he had a rigid rearfoot and a flexible midfoot. The stability in the heel was forcing him to fight the shoe and pivot in order to get heel lift and toe-off.
I changed his shoes from stability to neutral and he called back with a huge thumbs up with easier running and no more shin pain.
Steve Manning is a podiatrist, Level 4 running coach, founder of intraining Running Centre and the intraining Running & Triathlon Club. In 2000 he wrote for Australia’s “Runners World” under the name “Steve, The Footman”. He has a special interest in footwear and footwear biomechanics for runners and has spent many hours tinkering with runners shoes to make sure they work effectively and comfortably while running. You can book in to see Steve and his team of running podiatrists and physiotherapist at intraining Running Centre, or chat to his team of runners in our running shoe store.