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6 Signs You’re Wearing The Wrong Running Shoes

Finding perfectly fitting running shoes is an ongoing quest for many runners.

Trial and error are what most of us go through when searching for running shoes, but when we finally run that long run with ideal comfort, we know we’ve found our perfect match. 

When you finally find that perfect pair of running shoes, you feel like Cinderella slipping her foot into the glass slipper. However, getting to this point can take quite a while, and often we choose the wrong running shoes time and time again before getting them right. 

Even when we finally find running shoes that work for us, they become replaced with newer models that the brand may have made just a slight tweak to, but that changes everything. 

If you are still deciding whether or not your shoes are right for you, we have compiled a list of six sure-fire signs that you’re wearing the wrong running shoes and that your quest is far from over.

Let’s look at the top 6 signs that you’re wearing the wrong running shoes.

The word run in shoelaces with running shoes surrounding it.

#1: You Feel Discomfort In Your Feet

If you feel any discomfort whatsoever when putting on your shoes, they are the wrong running shoes for you.

The number one rule when choosing your running shoes is that they must be comfortable

When you put them on, you need to feel that “ooh, aah” sensation. Your toes need to have some wiggle room, your heel has to be cradled in just so, and there cannot be even one tiny, minuscule discomfort while walking or jogging around the store with them laced and ready to go.

If you try them on and feel anything before even trying to lace them up, you know they are not the pair for you.

A person with foot pain from wearing the wrong running shoes.

#2: You Have Joint Pain (Knee, Hip, Or Ankle)

If your knees, hips, or ankles are bothering you while you are running, one of the possible culprits could be that you are wearing the wrong running shoes. 

First, check the mileage on your shoes to see if they are just simply past their expiration date, and it’s time to get a new pair.

Even though each brand will differ, a general rule of thumb is to replace your running shoes after 350 to 500 miles. 

If your running shoes are newer but still causing you pain, there are several possible reasons this could be happening. Let’s take a quick look at the specifications to consider when buying the right shoes and avoid at all costs buying the wrong running shoes:

Support

There are a variety of different options when it comes to running shoe types and the support they offer. There are several different types, including cushioned neutral shoesstability shoes, and motion-control running shoes.1Pedoe, D. T. (2001). Marathon Medicine. In Google Books. The Royal Society of Medicine. https://books.google.co.cr/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Mr79AgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA159&dq=running+shoe+support&ots=fSc1sE-BMv&sig=Q3bLaq9gbR9Hmku6vjbjgiQlhTU&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=running%20shoe%20support&f=false

Finding the best type of running shoe can best be determined by doing a gait analysis. Here, the expert can evaluate several factors, such as pronation and supination.

Most specialty running stores provide a gait analysis when helping you choose which running shoes to buy so that you have a better chance of finding that great fit from the get-go.

A person doing a gait analysis.

Cushioning

From the popular Hoka One Ones with a ton of plush cushioning to barefoot shoes with almost no cushioning whatsoever, each of us needs to find what type best supports our bodies while we are running. 

Shoes with higher cushioning will feel softer on the landing and reduce that hard feeling of impact with each footfall but they may be somewhat unstable for some ankles. 

Using a shoe with less cushioning will give you better control over your footwork, especially if you are trail running on technical terrain or doing speed work on a track. However, less cushioning may increase the impact you feel when landing.

Also, the type of material technology in the midsole will vary from brand to brand. There is springy cushioning, which will be more responsive with each step, and others that are a bit plusher for a softer yet slower rebound.

Perhaps you prefer something smack dab in the middle, not too little cushioning, not too much cushioning, but a Goldilocks happy medium. 

A pair of black running shoes on a track.

Drop

Running shoe drop is the difference between the height or thickness of the shoe’s sole underneath your heel compared to the thickness underneath the ball of your foot. 

A flat shoe where your heel and toes are at the same height would be a zero-drop shoe, meaning there is no downward slope from heel to toe whatsoever. This type of shoe emulates natural or barefoot running and tends to force a short quick cadence and forefoot strike pattern. 

As the drop of the running shoe increases, the support often does as well. There are three other options for running shoe drop:

Low-drop running shoes, or minimal running shoes, are a step up from zero drop with a 1-4 millimeter difference from the heel to toe. More traditional running shoes have either a medium drop at 5-8 mm or a high drop at 9+ mm.2Davis, I. S. (2014). The Re-emergence of the Minimal Running Shoe. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy44(10), 775–784. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2014.5521

Considering all of these factors when choosing your running shoes could help you avoid running in the wrong running shoes and suffering through unnecessary joint pain.

A person running barefoot on gravel.

#3: You Get Blisters and Hot Spots 

If you are getting blisters and/or hot spots during your runs, your running shoes are most likely too tight, and there is too much friction, ultimately causing these painful little buggers.

You can check your socks first, being another possible culprit in the blister case. You could try using a thinner or thicker pair of socks, depending on the case, with minimal stitching, or try a different fabric, such as a moisture-wicking fabric.

However, if the problem persists, you will want to look at the tightness and fit of your running shoes. 

When wearing your running shoes, can you wiggle your toes freely?

You often want to have a thumbnail or two’s width of space between your longest toe and the inside tip of your shoes. Remember, this may not be your big toe. There are many cases where the second toe or another toe is your longest toe, so begin measuring after that specific toe.

If you do not have enough space at the front of your running shoe, the tips and sides of your toes will rub against the inside wall, most likely causing blisters or hot spots. 

On the other hand, if your shoes are too loose, the sole of your foot may rub against the bottom of the shoe, also likely causing blisters and hotspots. 

Also, consider the width of your foot. If you have bunions, a hammer toe, or just a wide foot in general, you will need a shoe with a wide toe box to comfortably fit your foot. 

A person with blisters on their baby toe from running.

#4: You Bruise or Lose Toenails 

This is another tell-tale sign that you are wearing the wrong running shoes.

 If your toenails are bruising or, even worse, falling off, you need to reconsider the size and/or model of your running shoes.

Often, people will go a half size, one size, or even one and a half sizes up from their day-to-day sneaker size, but again, this will depend on the make and model of each shoe. 

A must is to always try on your running shoes before purchasing them.

Ordering running shoes online is a gamble unless you are absolutely sure you have used that exact make and model before and that they have not changed over time. Even then, I would suggest taking the trip to the store and trying them on again anyhow, just to be certain.

#5: You Feel Pressure Or Numbness On The Top Of Your Foot

Some models of running shoes may simply be too tight for your foot around the instep. In this case, you can’t simply choose a size up because a larger shoe will also be longer, which will cause you problems on the other end. 

You can try different lacing patterns at first, but if they are tight on the top of your foot, just barely laced, this model will not work for you. Your foot must feel comfortable and just cradled by the shoe, not suffocated by it. 

Two people running on gravel.

#6: Your Heel Pops Out 

On the other side of the spectrum, it is possible to choose running shoes that are too loose around the heel.

You want the heel cup to cradle your foot and keep it in your sneaker at all times. You don’t want to lose your shoe on the trail once you hit some sticky mud or get blisters on the back of your heel because of too much friction.

Having running shoes that fit correctly is crucial to successful running.

If you have the perfect shoes, or at least shoes that are comfortable and fit well, you can focus on the more important things during your runs such as your running form, running economy, and performance, without worrying if you will finish your Saturday long run with a toenail or two less. 

These are 6 unmistakable signs you’re wearing the wrong running shoes, so if you tick any of these boxes, it is definitely time to make a change.

How to Pick The Right Shoes?

Check out our running shoe shopping guides to ensure you choose the right running shoes for you! 

A blue running shoe.

References

Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

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