9 Signs Your Running Shoes Are the Wrong Size

Trail runner tying shoes
Trail runner tying shoeskupicoo / Getty Images

If you’ve never been fitted at a running store, chances are you buy your sneakers solely based on how they look.

When it comes to strutting around the weight rack, it’s not a grave mistake. But walking or running in shoes that don’t fit quite right can cause serious harm.

“Overuse injuries include plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, stress fractures, bunions, corns, hammer toes, and tendonitis,” says Chris Carter, M.D., sports medicine physician at Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Alabama. And they’re not limited to your feet either.

You may be surprised to hear that the difference from Brooks to Asics to Nike is more than just aesthetics.

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“The beauty of having so many running shoes in the market is that we all have unique feet and we run and walk on them differently,” says Phil Anthony, run specialty channel manager at running shoe brand 361 USA.

Fit is about more than just inches from your toes to your heel, he adds. Protruding toes, bulging sidewalls, and arch placement all play into not just how comfortable you feel on a run but your risk for injury.

So, how can you tell if you’re wearing the wrong running shoes? Look for these nine red flags.

1. You can’t get your shoes off without completely loosening the laces
Fix: Go a size up. “You should be able to slide your feet out with your shoes laced up and untied,” Carter says.

2. Your heel slips when you’re walking or running uphill
Fix: Lace your shoes up through the final eyelet to minimize slippage, Carter advises. There will be some heel movement, but it shouldn’t be uncomfortable. “Your heel should fit snug in your shoe, but not tight.” Use this guide to see if you’re lacing your shoes correctly.

3. Your toes graze the front of your shoe after a long run, your toenails are bruised, and/or you’ve developed Hammer Toe
Fix: “Feet swell and lengthen over a run, so when you’re trying on a pair, make sure there’s a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe—which isn’t always the big toe—and the end of a shoe,” Carter says. “Your toes should also wiggle freely up and down.”

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4. After a long run, your arches ache, your Achilles-tendon is tender, and/or you feel strain in your calves
Fix: “An improperly aligned flex point can lead to arch pain or plantar fasciitis, while a lack of heel support and flexibility leads to Achilles-tendon or calf strain,” Carter says. The easiest way to measure your foot’s flex point is to use a Brannock Device (that sliding metal measuring tool they use at shoe stores). Then, find your shoe’s flex point. Hold the heel of your shoe as you press the tip into the floor. “The shoe should bend and crease along the same line your foot flexes, he confirms.

5. Numbness or strain on the top of your foot

Fix: This means the top of your shoe is either too tight or too loose on your foot, Anthony says. There should be no gaps or bagginess in the upper material when you’re laced up, he says says. “The upper material of the shoe should be snug but not too tight as to inhibit blood flow.”

6. You have bunions or corns on the side of your toes
Fix: Your foot box is too wide for the pair you’re in. “If the shoe is too narrow, you’ll feel the base of your little toe sitting on the edge of the shoe last. Ideally, your foot should be able to move side-to-side in the shoe’s forefoot without crossing over the edge of the insole,” Carter says. When you’re trying on, you should be able to pinch a quarter inch of upper material along the widest part of your foot for an ideal fit.

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7. Your toes burn after a run
Fix: It’s called hot foot and happens when your shoes have too stiff a sole, Carter says. Find a pair with more cushion, he advises.

8. You feel a stabbing sensation in your knee while running in a new pair of shoes, especially downhill 
Fix: This is classic IT Band syndrome, where the tendon becomes inflamed and while there could be a lot of culprits, one is when your gait changes because of poorly fitting shoes, Carter says. There’s no one part of the fit that’s responsible here, so your best bet is getting fitted for a new pair at a running store.

9. If you feel a deep pain in your foot that gets worse when you’re active and doesn’t ease up after a few miles on a run
Fix: “Stress fractures occur on the foot and ankle when muscles in these areas weaken from too much or too little use. Because of this, the feet and ankles lose support when walking or running from the impact of the ground,” says Carter. If your shoes don’t fit right, allowing the foot to move too much or not supporting the foot and ankle properly, the bones receive the full impact of each step. The stress on the feet causes cracks to form in the bones, thus causing stress fractures, he explains.

Help protect your lower body against injury with these strength-training exercises for your feet.

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