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7 Signs You're Wearing the Wrong Sneakers

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    Toenail Loss or Bruising

    "If the toe box—or entire shoe—is too small, you can put too much pressure on your toes and cause blackening or loss of the nail," says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in San Diego. There's actually a term for this big toe woe: jogger's toe. Follow the old rule of thumb: Leave a thumb's-width of space between the tip of your longest toe and the front of the shoe. Don't be afraid to size up, either. Leahy wears a 7 to work and an 8½ or 9 for long runs.

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    Blister-prone? You're not alone. This is the most frequent complaint of marathon runners, according to a University of Cincinnati study. While blisters can pop up because of the wrong socks (or shoe-sock combo), a sneaker that rubs you the wrong way can do it on its own. "You shouldn't need to 'break in' a pair—they should feel comfortable and fit appropriately out of the box," Bryant says.

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    Plantar Fasciitis

    "Heel pain is the most common reason people visit podiatrists, and plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of that," Leahy says. "About 50 percent of my clients come in for plantar fasciitis." Wearing the wrong sneaker, and repeatedly pounding on your feet while doing so, is a typical cause. Follow these plantar fasciitis tips, and if you're still struggling, ask a podiatrist or physical therapist to examine your gait and make recommendations for a sneaker that will provide the support you need.

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    Hot Foot

    When you're clipped in using those stiff-soled cycling shoes, "the continual pressure in the ball of the foot can cause nerve irritation, which results in a burning feeling near your toes," Leahy says. Ease in to the length of your spin sessions or outdoor rides and seek out a cycling shoe that has a cushioned footbed. Keep the strap nearest to your toes a bit looser than the others for some wiggle room, too.

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    Stress Fractures

    These tiny bone breaks can happen to anyone, but they're occasionally linked to minimalist sneakers. "Half of the population are heel strikers and half are forefoot strikers," Bryant says. For those who hit on their heels, minimalist shoes don't offer enough cushion to absorb shock, which can lead to stress fractures, joint inflammation, and other injuries. "The minimalist trend originated when people wanted to run like our ancestors, but we don't run on sand or dirt as much anymore. When the ground, like the sidewalk or bike trail, doesn't give underneath us, the body gives instead," Leahy says. If you're among the heel-striking population, lean toward more conventional kicks.

  • Tendonitis

    Inflamed tendons can happen in several places in the foot, but are most common on the inside of the ankle or outer edge of the foot. The former is caused by the foot rolling inward, meaning a more structured shoe is needed, while the latter is caused by an arch that provides too much support. Follow these tendonitis treatment tricks. Ask a podiatrist how to ease back in to your workout routine safely and how to find a shoe that won't lead to achy tendons again.

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    Uneven Wear

    Often, this is just a sign of a shoe that needs to be replaced (treat yourself to a new pair every 300 to 500 miles, Bryant recommends). But if you compare the left shoe to the right and notice asymmetry, you may need custom insoles or orthotics to balance your body, Leahy says.

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    Fit Facts

    Should you select a neutral shoe? Or would a motion control, minimalist, or stability shoe be a better fit? The best way to tell, without visiting a sneaker fitting pro, is to take the "wet test." "Step on a piece of paper or dry spot of concrete with a wet foot, then look at the arch area. If you can see the whole footprint mark, you probably have flat feet that tend to roll inward," Bryant says, so a motion control shoe would work best. If there's little proof of a print between the ball of your foot and heel, you have a high arch and would likely feel best in a neutral sneaker that absorbs shock. And if your print is somewhere in the middle, snag a stability shoe for a mix of cushioning and control.

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    FITNESS Faves

    "People are so unique in their workout style, size, and foot shape, so there is no 'perfect' shoe for everyone," Bryant says. Use our editor picks to start your search, then visit a local store that measures your feet and allows you to take a test run to see which fits best for you.

    For cardio classes: New Balance WX20 Cross Trainer

    For speed work: Nike FS Lite Run 2

    For a joint-friendly jog: Hoka Cloud Runner

    For long runs: Asics GEL-Cumulus 16

    For cycling: Sidi Genius Fit