You wouldn't dare wear flip-flops to go running, so why wear running shoes to play basketball?
Because they're comfortable? Bad answer.
"Someone playing basketball wearing running shoes with no lateral support, or returning from jumping motion with no stability" could end up with a serious inversion ankle sprain, said Dr. James Losito, professor of podiatric biomechanics at Barry University in Miami Shores.
That is, the ankle rolls outward, ligaments stretch and tear and tendons can be damaged.
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It's the most common sports injury Losito sees, but it can be avoided by wearing the right shoes. Manufacturers put a lot of science into their products, especially running shoes, analyzing arch types, body frames and runners' weight and mileage, said Dave Marr, a sales running specialist at www.roadrunnersports.com.
The midsoles of running shoes tend to be more durable and more shock-absorbing than other athletic shoes. Asics, for example, uses gel in the heel and forefoot of its shoes for shock absorption.
"Most people pronate - roll in toward the big toe," Marr said. "They need cushioning and stability ... Someone with an average arch needs moderate stability. Runners with flat feet need more stability and motion control because they tend to over-pronate."
Specialty stores will take into account your mileage and pace and watch how your foot falls when you walk or jog. They'll also examine your old shoes.
"It really depends on their stance, if they over-pronate, under-pronate, how their stride is ... whether they run long distances," said Anthony Gomez, a 20-mile-a-week runner.
Whatever your sport, "you should have a thumb-width of room from your longest toe to the end of the shoe - a half-inch to an inch," Losito said. In soccer, however, players often wear cleats too tight.
"They feel like it gives them a better feel for the ball," Losito said. "You have to respect that as long as it won't have a bad ending. Every other sport, have some width."
Don't buy a shoe just because it has a hefty or cheap price tag. Do your research. Ask about cushioning, stability, materials used.
Here, then, are tips in buying the right shoe for your sport - courtesy of Dr. Losito and the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).
Losito: You need the increased cushioning because the shock transmitted to the body is three to four times greater when you're running.
APMA: Maximum shock absorption helps runners avoid shin splints and knee pain. The shoe should control the way your heel strikes the ground, so the rest of your foot can fall correctly. Know your foot type (high, medium, low arch) so you have the right shoe with the right support for your foot.
What to look for: Comfort. Don't buy your first pair of shoes online. Shop at a store so you can test them.
Losito: Cross trainers are fine for someone doing minimal running, maybe jogging slower than an eight-minute mile, or running five miles a week as part of another exercise program. If you're running faster than an eight-minute mile, wear a running shoe.
What to look for: Stability. Most cross trainers have a wider outsole than running or walking shoes.
Losito: A walking shoe has a more curved shank to allow for rocking motion because when you're walking, both feet are on the ground at all times. There's no need for additional cushioning. If you're power walking or race walking you can use a running shoe.
APMA: Look for a stiff heel, check for toe flexibility and make sure the shoe is rigid in the middle to accommodate the rocking motion.
What to look for: The shoe should bend at the ball of your foot, not the arch.
Losito: A basketball shoe is designed to stabilize the ankle.
APMA: A thick, stiff sole gives support while running and landing from jumps. High ankle construction supports the ankle during quick changes in direction. A basketball shoe should have the strongest support on each side of the ankle.
What to look for: Stability. Ankle protection. The shoe should also match your arch type.
Losito: Lateral stability is a must for the side-to-side movement.
APMA: Tennis and racquetball shoes might look like any other sneaker, but it's what's on the inside that makes the difference. A court shoe supports both sides of the foot because of quick lateral movements and weight shifts in court sports. It provides a flexible sole for fast changes of direction, and it has less shock absorption than a running or basketball shoe.
What to look for: Durability. The insole will likely be the first part of the shoe to break down.
Losito: Cleats are good for soccer, American football and baseball on dirt, artificial turf or grass, specifically bermuda grass. Cleats should be from one-sixteenth to one-half inch.
APMA: When wearing cleats or spikes for the first time, watch for blisters, redness or other irritation, which could indicate a biomechancial problem in the legs or feet. If cleats cause pain, stop wearing them for a few days. If the pain returns, see a podiatrist specializing in sports medicine for evaluation.
What to look for: Turf football shoes have rubber molded cleats for traction. Short metal studs are ideal for hard, dry surfaces; long studs for wet, muddy surfaces.
Soccer cleats help keep the players' center of gravity low for stability. Beginners and intermediate players should wear molded cleats. Removable studs are suitable for experienced players who can alter them according to weather conditions. Many youth baseball leagues require plastic cleats because studs can cause injuries.