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If The Shoe Fits, it Still Might Not Work

SHOES – Should you wear the same shoe for every type of exercise or should you invest in different shoes for each sport and workout?

Do multi-purpose shoes really work for specific sports? 

Cross trainers are a product range that first cropped up in the 1980s, selling the idea that one pair of sports shoes could carry the workload across multiple disciplines. 

Initially they were designed a little like running shoes with good cushioning but were flexible enough to withstand not only your morning jog but also an aerobics class, a leisurely game of tennis, golf, basketball and more besides.

Even today I see tennis players who manage to beat me, wearing cross trainers that they think are tennis shoes, but really aren’t. Proper tennis shoes have stiff uppers to support sudden changes in direction, with cushioning to protect the joints against cement courts and enough spring to jump and reach those tantalising overhead smashes.

Cross trainers have many of those properties but can’t really cope with the stability needed for a drastic change in direction. Before long, two things might very well happen: the shoes get ruined and the player gets injured – making the financial saving of multi-purpose shoes a significantly false economy. 

If you’re just starting tennis and looking to see if you’ll enjoy it, testing the water with cross trainers isn’t a bad idea, before assessing whether an investment for the longer term will prove worthwhile. If you’re serious about tennis and want to elevate your game while protecting your body, top-end shoes designed for that very purpose, can easily be secured for around $150 and is money well invested.

Cross trainers for five-a-side football is a bad idea however. The stress they’ll be put under even without contacting the football is at least equal to a tennis match but putting your laces through the ball for that 15-yard strike will soon put an end to the useful life of canvas-based footwear.

Perhaps the biggest sin you can make with sports footwear is not as common as it was in the past. Running shoes are so widely available that they’re increasingly being bought for everyday wear. So, going out for a run while wearing squash shoes or football trainers is thankfully no longer a common sight. The health benefits of running are arguably outweighed by the related injuries to knees, back, ankles and neck caused by the constant, jarring of joints and vertebrae. Running without the hi-tech cushioned protection of a dedicated running shoe can make the risk of those injuries even more significant.

The most direct source of injury when using inappropriate footwear however is to the feet themselves. They need to get us around for the rest of our active lives, so it’s imperative that we protect them from toe nail bruising or loss, blisters and Achilles tendonitis.

Plantar fasciitis is another, perhaps less well-known degenerative condition affecting the thick band of tissue (also called a fascia) at the bottom of the foot, running from the heel to the toes. Doctors once thought bony growths called heel spurs brought on the pain. Now they believe that heel spurs are the result, not the cause. The condition causes pain in the heel. It’s usually worse when you take your first steps in the morning or after you’ve been sitting for a long time. It tends to feel better with activity but worsens again after you spend a long time on your feet.

Although there is treatment that your doctor can assist with, supportive shoes or inserts, including arch supports can distribute pressure more evenly across your feet and ease the pain. 

Inserts in my football boots providing extra cushioning for the heel have dramatically lessened the Achilles problems that I’ve been plagued with over the years and I recommend experimenting with these if you have the same problems.

A podiatrist in combination with a dedicated running shoe retailer can help provide the best set up for your sports shoe and it’ll be time well spent.
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