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Culture » Get Out

Tales Shoes Tell

Clues to stride problems on bottom of shoes


  • Wina Sturgeon

You certainly know what the tops of your shoes look like. You probably apply polish to them to maintain a shiny and new look. If they’re athletic shoes, you may even toss them in the washer or carefully clean them by hand to remove dirt and bring back the bright colors.

But have you ever turned your shoes over and looked at the bottoms?

The wear on the soles of your shoes can reveal important facts about the way you walk—facts that you should know ASAP. If you’re walking wrong—or worse, running wrong—you can be creating issues that down the line can negatively affect joints and muscles, not only in your feet and legs, but throughout your core and spine.

The big problems are pronation and supination. Pronation is when your foot is weighted to the inside of your body with each step. Supination is when it’s weighted to the outside.

B.J. Christenson, manager of Salt Lake Running Company’s 2454 S. 700 East location, explains why supination is actually referred to as “under-pronation.”

“Your hand supinates when it moves from palm up to palm down, which is possible because the wrist can turn,” he says. “Your foot can roll to the outside, but it can’t turn over, which is why people sprain their ankles.”

The ideal step is one where the body’s weight is distributed evenly over the foot, not excessively to one side or the other. Your shoe bottoms will show how you’re stepping. But don’t judge anything by a wear pattern on the outside edge of the heel.

“Most people wear out that outside edge of the heel,” Christenson says. “People who [step] on the heel first wear down the heel, so that’s not a great place to look at the shoe. We really want to look at the edge of the entire tread of the shoe. If you tend to supinate … that outside edge is ground down toward the forefoot. If you over-pronate, it will show toward the front of your shoe, particularly on the inside near the big toe area.” The wear pattern may be quite subtle.

There are shoes built for people who roll their foot toward the inside or the outside. Christenson says that it’s important to minimize or eliminate both over-pronation and supination, because shoes basically provide a foundation for the framework of the body. There are also correcting inserts that can be placed in shoes to help the foot make a more balanced strike, whether walking, running or hiking.

While Salt Lake Running specializes in athletic shoes, selecting the right fit for your foot applies to every shoe, even dress shoes. The right support matters as much as the correct size. Flip-flops, which offer no support at all, are not good for your feet.

“If you put your house on soft ground that doesn’t support the framework, you run the risk of having the foundation shift and cause cracked walls and ceilings,” Christenson says. “If you run or walk on the wrong foundation, it can potentially lead to problems in the knee, hip, back and neck, all the way up the skeletal framework of the body. It can even cause muscle imbalances.”

When buying athletic or other shoes that will get a lot of use, it’s best to go to a specialty shoe store with knowledgeable salespeople who can analyze your step and fit the shoe properly to your foot. The right kind of shoe can minimize pronation or supination and help keep you on your feet—with fewer problems—for a long time.