What Your Running Shoe Wear Patterns Mean

What Your Running Shoe Wear Patterns Mean

by Mark Paigen 5 minute read

As a runner, you know exactly how many miles you've logged on every pair of sneakers you own. And you know how important it is to keep your running shoes in good condition and to replace them when they're beat. But did you know your running shoe wear patterns hold important clues to your performance?

The Basics ---

  • The wear pattern on the sole of your running shoe can provide important clues to how your weight is distributed as you run. It can also help you select the best running shoe for you.
  • There are three different wear patterns - neutral, medial and lateral - that can indicate overpronation or supination. 
  • Arch support insoles in running shoes help overpronators run more efficiently and lengthen their stride. For underpronators, arch support spreads the impact of each step over a larger area of the foot. 
  • For runners, we recommend Tread Labs Pace Insoles to improve biomechanics and alignment. If you're a competitive running who needs thin, light, super-firm insoles for superior energy return, check out our Dash Insoles

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    What You Need To Know ---

    Understanding your shoe sole wear patterns can help you improve your stride, prevent injuries, and choose your next pair of running shoes, so it's worth spending a few minutes analyzing the bottom of your shoe. 

    Your Running Shoe Wear Pattern Analysis

    Take your running sneakers, flip them over and examine the sole. Even if you have excellent biomechanics, you'll see wear on the underside of your shoe in a specific area. While wear patterns on running shoes are totally normal, they tell you quite a bit about yourself and can be an indicator of your running biomechanics.

    As Lower Extremity Magazine points out, "pronation is a necessary component of normal running biomechanics, facilitating shock absorption and stabilization. But abnormal levels of pronation, whether restricted or excessive, can alter gait patterns in ways that can potentially increase the risk of running-related injuries."

    That's why understanding how you pronate is so important. Because once you know which category you fall into, you can get sneakers made to help you control your pronation and find the best arch support inserts for your running biomechanics.

    As you examine the bottom of your running shoes, you'll probably be able to match them up to one of the three most common wear patterns - medial wear, neutral wear and lateral wear. 

    Medial Wear, Neutral Wear, Lateral Wear

    What Does A Medial Wear Pattern On Running Shoes Mean?

    Medial wear on the bottom of your running shoe is caused by overpronation. Overpronation occurs when your foot’s natural inward cushioning roll is exaggerated, which can lead to: 

    • Foot, ankle, knee, and hip-related running injuries
    • Arch collapse
    • Plantar fasciitis
    • Inefficiency

    If you're training for a marathon or aiming for a PR 5k, overpronation can definitely get in your way. Experts agree that a runner who overpronates should be wearing motion control shoes.

    Motion control running shoes help guide the foot and correct weight transfer. PodiatryToday says "a motion control running shoe differs from a neutral shoe in having the following features: a heel drop of over 10mm, a lateral heel or sole flare, a thermoplastic midfoot shank, and a dual-density midsole." They also have harder midsoles than neutral shoes.

    For runners who overpronate, the combination of motion control running shoes and firm arch support can be a game changer. The support that insoles provide control pronation while improving your body alignment and bio-mechanics.

    What Does A Neutral Wear Pattern On Running Shoes Mean?

    Neutral Wear will present itself as even abrasion throughout the ball and forefoot area of the outsole (the outermost layer of the sole).

    Generally speaking, people with the most energy-efficient stride present with neutral running shoe wear patterns. Weight is being transferred throughout the foot with a bio-mechanical process called pronation, the body’s natural way of absorbing shock while taking a step.

    If you are experiencing neutral wear, you should consider purchasing a stability shoe. Stability shoes are the most common type of running shoes. They are composed of two main ingredients: slight medial support and good mid-sole cushioning.

    Adding an insole for running to your stability shoes may help lengthen your stride. You'll just want to be sure the insole you choose has arch support that matches the contours of your foot. It should also have a deep heel cup and that will help cushion every step you take. 

    Running Shoes Hanging On Wall

    What Does A Lateral Wear Pattern On Running Shoes Mean?

    If you have a wear pattern on the outer, lateral edge of your running shoe – you’re underpronating (also called supinating). Underpronating is rare, only observed in about 5% of the running population.

    Nonetheless, it can lead to stress-related bone and joint injuries in the lower extremities. Underpronators don't have the body's natural shock absorbing motion and need help with cushioning and injury prevention.

    Research recommends a cushioning shoe to prevent injuries. Cushioning shoes assist in displacing energy during the impact of your stride.

    Adding an arch support insole for running to your shoe will also help. The insole will disperse the impact of each step over a broader area. Insoles with deep heel cups can also help by concentrating the fatty pad under the heel bone.

    Running Shoes For Overpronators and Underpronators

    Finding the right running shoe for your biomechanics doesn't have to be overwhelming. At the end of the day, the British Journal of Sports Medicine says that personal comfort is one of the biggest predictors of injury preventing. So choose the shoe that feels the most comfortable when you run (not just when you stand still).

    Here's a short list of great running shoe options in the stability, motion control and cushioning categories. Whether you're an overpronator or a supinator, don't forget to add an insole so you can optimize your biomechanics.

    New Balance 990V3: Stability Shoe

    Great for logging longer mileage runs. Has a hint of medial support with a stiff heel adding more comfort. Extra points awarded for being made in the USA.

    Newton Motion 8: Motion Control 

    Great solution for runners who crave extra miles, but have been slowed down by pronation-related running injuries in the past.

    Brooks Transcend 6: Cushioning Shoe

    The Transcend 6 offers maximum cushioning. Adding more cushioning distributes energy more evenly throughout each impact. Brooks also engineered a rounded heel design to reduce pressure on the ankle and knee joints.

    What Are The Best Insoles For Running Shoes?

    Now that you know what your shoe wear patterns are telling you, it's time to add insoles to your running shoes to improve your alignment and efficiency. The best insoles for running shoes will provide the extra structure and support your feet need to handle the shock of running on concrete, asphalt or uneven trails.

    When you're comparing running shoe insoles, you want to find ones that:

    • Fit Properly: Guarantee strong support and great comfort with a perfect fit. Look for insoles that come in multiple arch heights so you can find one that closely matches the contours of your feet.
    • Have Firm Support: Road running in particular is hard and fast, so running insoles need to be durable and hold their shape. The structure of your insoles should be firm enough to take the abuse that high-mile runners dish out. Insoles that have minimal structure or are 100% foam just don't have the strength to support proper foot alignment.
    • Maintain Proper Biomechanics. Running shoe insoles need to correct your foot's biomechanical irregularities. Firm support controls overpronation and helps relieve and prevent common running injuries like plantar fasciitis.

    As you start shopping, you'll need to determine your arch height. That will make sure you end up with insoles that fit your feet well. When you make your choice, remove the factory insert from your running shoes, add your running insoles, and gradually increase the amount of time you wear them each day.

    Be sure to give your feet time to get used to your new insoles and once they feel like they've always been there, start racking up the miles.

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