Athletes, are you experiencing foot pain or injuries? It could be your shoes.
Athletes push themselves and their bodies to the limits. Given the intense nature of sports, athletes need the proper equipment to perform at their best and stay healthy – and that includes athletic footwear.
Proper footwear for athletes is crucial as it provides essential support, protection, and comfort needed for their respective sports. Proper footwear helps prevent injuries by stabilizing the foot and ankle, reducing shock and impact, and providing proper arch support. It also helps enhance performance by providing grip, traction, and stability and allowing for efficient movement. Additionally, proper footwear is essential for injury rehabilitation and recovery.
Proper footwear isn’t reserved just for professional athletes. Anyone who participates in a sport is an athlete. Even hobbyists can benefit from good foot hygiene and proper equipment.
In this article, you’ll learn about the importance of proper footwear for athletes for preventing and treating common foot conditions. We explore seven sports and the role of athletic shoes:
What are the most common foot injuries among athletes?
Athletes are prone to various types of foot injuries due to the nature of their sport and the physical demands placed on their feet. Some of the most common foot injuries among athletes include:
- Sprains are an injury to the ligaments, the bands of tissue connecting bones. Sprains can occur in the foot and ankle due to a sudden twist or turn. Athletic shoes that are made for your sport’s playing surface and provide good ankle support can help reduce your risk of sprains.
- Stress fractures are small bone cracks that occur due to repetitive stress on the foot and are common in runners and other athletes who engage in high-impact sports. Wearing athletic shoes with cushioning for shock absorption will help.
- Plantar fasciitis is a condition that results in pain and inflammation in the bottom of the foot. Overuse of the plantar fascia, the thick group of tissues on the underside of the foot, causes plantar fasciitis. Stability shoes and shoes with good arch support are essential for preventing and managing plantar fasciitis.
- Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tissue that connects muscle to bone (tendons). Tendinitis in the foot and ankle stems from overuse or repetitive motions.
- Blisters are tiny fluid-filled sacs that form on the feet from friction or pressure. They are prevalent in athletes who play any sport that involves running. Ill-fitting footwear is a common cause of blisters.
- Turf toe is damage to the big toe joint caused by excessive bending, often due to playing sports on artificial turf. Wearing athletic shoes designed for the surface you’re playing on can go a long way to preventing this common foot injury.
A great way to prevent the above injuries starts by wearing the proper footwear.
What kinds of athletic footwear are there?
You may ask: are sports shoes worth it? The short answer is yes. The long is below (also yes).
There are as many different kinds of athletic footwear as there are sports. Each sport demands different movements, and shoes accommodate the differences.
Specifics of each sport include intensity, surface, and movements. A sport’s demands all factor into the makeup of proper footwear. Then comes the specific demands of your feet: foot type, arch, cushioning, fit, and durability.
Regardless of the sport, all athletes should try on various pairs of footwear to see which provides the best fit, support, and comfort for their specific sport.
We discuss how different sports’ demands influence footwear and how you can choose the proper pair.
Running shoes are designed specifically for running and have unique features to meet the demands of the activity. That said, running shoes are also a great all-purpose athletic shoe that you can wear for activities like walking, aerobics and your workout. Proper athletic footwear for running can help prevent the most common running injuries, such as shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, and runner’s knee.
Here are a few factors to keep top of mind when choosing running shoes:
- Foot type: Running shoes should be chosen based on an individual’s foot type (flat feet, high arches, etc.) to provide proper support and prevent injury.
- Cushioning: Running shoes should have ample cushioning to absorb impact and provide comfort during each stride.
- Breathability: Running shoes should be breathable to prevent sweat and moisture buildup, keeping the feet cool and dry. In the summer, you want shoes to wick moisture. In winter, you may want something waterproof that’s also breathable, like Gore-TEX.
- Fit: There should be adequate room for your toes in the shoe’s toebox. You should be able to freely move your toes in your running. Ill-fitting running shoes can lead to blisters, calluses, and other foot conditions.
- Flexibility: Running shoes range in flexibility. You may opt for more rigid shoes if you need more support. Runners looking for a more natural feel may opt for more flexibility and unrestricted movement.
- Traction: Running shoes should have good traction to stabilize and prevent slipping on various surfaces. There are many surfaces to run on: pavement, grass, trail, gravel, treadmill, or rubber track. Traction should also take the season and weather conditions into account to ensure you have good grip on slippery surfaces.
- Durability: Running shoes should be durable. Typically, running shoes can last between 500-750 kilometres before the material and cushioning break down. You may experience minor aches and pains once your shoes begin to degrade. That’s why it’s essential to replace running shoes regularly to ensure they provide adequate support and reduce the risk of injury.
The correct mix of the above will help keep you injury-free and make running more enjoyable.
Basketball shoes are designed specifically for basketball. Nearly half of all basketball injuries are ankle sprains. Proper footwear is critical in preventing sprains, as well as knee injuries.
Here’s why basketball shoes are critical for athletes:
- Support: Basketball shoes may ride higher up on the ankles than regular shoes. The lateral movement puts your feet and legs at greater risk of sprains. A higher collar can provide upper ankle support to reduce the risk of rolling. Basketball shoes come in low and high tops, depending on your preference.
- Traction: Basketball courts are a mix of concrete, polypropene plastic, and a layer of rubber material. It can be highly slippery without the proper traction. The basketball shoe soles are sticky enough to provide grip but allow players to pivot.
- Fit: Basketball shoes should fit snugly but be tight enough and provide enough room for the toes to move freely. Because of the lateral movement, you may be more prone to blisters, calluses, and corns if you use ill-fitting shoes.
Soccer footwear, commonly known as cleats, has unique features to meet the demands of the game, most notably studs. Proper footwear is critical for soccer players in preventing ankle sprains, knee sprains, calf strains, meniscus tears, and stress fractures.
Here are several factors to consider when choosing soccer cleats:
- Type of surface: Soccer surfaces vary depending on where you play. Cleats vary by grass or artificial turf (fake grass). The surface influences the type and how much traction you need.
- Support: Soccer cleats should support the ankles and feet to reduce the risk of injury during quick movements and tackles. Soccer players can expect to run anywhere between 9-13 km during a 90-minute game.
- Fit: Soccer cleats should fit snugly but not be too tight and provide enough room for the toes to move freely.
- Breathability: Soccer cleats should be breathable to prevent sweat and moisture buildup, keeping the feet cool and dry.
- Studs: Soccer cleats should have the appropriate stud configuration for the playing surface to provide adequate traction and stability.
Tennis shoes are designed specifically for the sport of tennis and have unique features to meet the demands of the game. Proper footwear can help prevent common tennis injuries, including knee and ankle sprains and patellar tendonitis.
Here are common factors to consider when choosing tennis shoes:
- Court surface. Tennis shoes vary by surface. Tennis surfaces include clay, grass, or hard court. Clay courts allow for sliding, while grass courts are softer. Meanwhile, hard courts are concrete, meaning there’s maximum traction, but you may be more prone to sprains if you slip or misstep.
- Support. Tennis shoes should support the ankles and feet to reduce the risk of injury during quick movements and lateral motions.
- Traction. Tennis shoes should have good traction to provide stability and prevent slipping on the court.
- Cushioning. Tennis shoes should have ample cushioning to absorb impact and provide comfort during quick movements and jumps. Tennis players cover approximately 10,500 steps during a match (or 6-8km), much of which is lateral movement.
How can athletes reduce their risk of foot injuries?
Proper footwear for athletes is the key piece of equipment for many people who are physically active. However, injury prevention goes beyond just what you wear. There are several ways athletes can reduce their risk of foot injuries.
- Wearing proper and well-fitted shoes specific to their sport (you now know this!).
- Gradually increase the intensity and duration of their physical activity to avoid overuse injuries.
- Stretch and warm up before exercising, and ease into the intensity.
- Strength train with a focus on the feet and lower legs.
- Maintain a healthy weight to reduce unneeded stress on their feet.
- Allow adequate recovery time, including rest between sessions and getting adequate sleep. Seek medical attention if pain or injuries surface.