Wear on outside of shoe

The wear on the outside of your shoes is your body’s way of telling you that it needs more support.

It’s not just about being comfortable, either: it’s about protecting your feet from injuries and long-term damage.

The good news is that all it takes is a few minutes to make sure you’re getting the support you need—all you have to do is put on a pair of insoles!

What your walking shoes look like after some wear—think holes, minor tears, and smoothed-out soles—can tell you a lot about both your shoes and your walking form, or gait. You can examine wear patterns on different parts of your shoes to learn more about your walking mechanics and form.

Types of Gait Patterns

In general, there are three types of gait patterns:

  • Normal: Pronation is the natural movement of your foot as you walk or run, with your foot rolling in slightly with each step. 
  • Overpronation: Here, the ankle rolls more inward and downward with each step and continues that motion when the toes should start to push off. Common in those with flat feet, overpronation creates a twisting motion with the toes doing most of the work, which can be associated with knee pain and shin splints.1
  • Underpronation: Also called supination, this gait causes your foot to roll outward with each step, putting more pressure on the outside edge of your foot and small toes. It’s most common in people with high, rigid arches and can be associated with iliotibial (IT) band syndrome and stress fractures.2

According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, check your athletic shoes after a total of 300 to 500 miles of running or walking, or 45 to 60 hours of sports, such as basketball, dance, or tennis.3 After that time, your shoes will have endured approximately one million steps and may have lost their cushioning and support.

Shoe wear patterns can help you decide whether you need to correct any issues, if your feet are being adequately supported, or if it’s time to go shopping for a replacement pair. And keep in mind that even a shoe that appears relatively new could be hiding a worn-out sole.


Worn Shoe Compared with Newer Shoe
Wendy Bumgardner

The shoe on the left shows a normal shoe wear pattern after 350 miles. The shoe on the right is the same model and the same user. But the shoe on the right has only been worn for 100 miles.

This depicts a normal shoe wear pattern for a person with a neutral gait, who neither overpronates nor supinates. It rolls through the step from heel strike to push off with the big toe in a straight line. You can see the wear at the toe and at the heel.

Heel Wear Patterns

Use this reference when checking out your own shoes for heel wear patterns:

  • A normal, neutral gait will see worn tread at the heel, especially toward the outside heel, as walkers strike with the heel at the beginning of each step. They will also see worn tread below the first and second toe, as they push off with the toe after rolling through a step.
  • Overpronators will see more heel wear in the middle of the heel and perhaps even toward the inner edge of the heel (the big toe side). Their shoes may even tilt inward when placed on a flat surface.
  • Supinators or underpronators will see treadwear all along the outer edge of the heel. When placed on a flat surface, their worn shoes may tilt outward.


Worn Toe of Walking Shoe
Wendy Bumgardner

Worn soles signify that you should replace your sneakers.4 Shoes are often designed to show this wear on the sole with a change of color, which can help persuade you that it is time to replace the shoes. The shoe pictured on the left has logged about 350 miles and is showing wear on the sole near the big toe.

Sole Wear Patterns

These signs can help you determine what your sole wear patterns may mean:

  • A neutral gait would show wear under the big toe. Neutral-gait walkers naturally push off with the first toe without excessive rotation during the stride.
  • An overpronator would see the worn off spot even more toward the big toe side of the sole.
  • A supinator shows wear is mostly along the outside edge of the shoe, closer to the little toe. The change in color shows a lot of wear on the heel. At the toe, you can see almost no wear on the inside to the middle portion of the sole.

Sole Cushioning

Worn Heel with Compression Wrinkles
Wendy Bumgardner 

The shoe pictured on the left has endured about 350 miles of walking, which equates to about 770,000 steps. It’s clear there’s already a significant loss of cushioning. Though this is a bit more difficult to assess than other wear patterns, inspect your shoes for different patterns of wrinkles.

Sole Wrinkle Wear Patterns

  • Compression lines signify that the shoe is aging and losing its ability to cushion and support. (If you were switching back and forth from wearing the older shoe to wearing a fresh pair of shoes, you could probably feel the difference in cushioning.)
  • Wrinkles are developing in the indented area in the heel of the shoe on the left, a sign that the shoe isn’t springing back from the compression it uses to cushion each step

Walkers who are on the heavier side will likely need to replace their shoes more often than is typically recommended due to faster degradation of sole cushioning.

Exterior Soles

Shoe Wear - Wrinkles in Heel
Wendy Bumgardner

With each step, your shoes break down little by little. The materials used in the sole and heel of your walking shoes have a limited lifespan. Shoes even age when sitting on the shelf unworn and will continue to break down once you start wearing them.

Small cracks and wrinkles can be seen in the exterior heel of the walking shoe pictured. These are caused by the constant compression with each step as well as the aging of the materials. As the shoe loses its ability to spring back with each step, it has less ability to cushion. You may start feeling more fatigue in your legs and feet after a long walk.

Shoe Interior

Shoe Wear Patterns - Hole Inside
Wendy Bumgardner

The shoe pictured is breaking down from the inside out. Not only do the outside of shoes reflect wear and tear, but you also may be creating holes in the interior of your shoe. This walker has worn through the first layer of fabric at the bottom of his ankle as the bone rubs against the side of the shoe.

Interior Wear Patterns

Take the time to look inside your shoe for the following:

  • A hole may occur in a spot where you developed a blister or hot spot. The rubbing of your foot against the shoe creates friction that can damage your skin as well as the shoe fabric.
  • Interior holes are also a sign that your shoes may be too tight and you need bigger shoes, as feet naturally swell while walking. This is also why when buying shoes, it’s better to shop in the afternoon when your feet increase in size to ensure a better fit.2

In the case of a hole near the heel, it’s important to learn how to lace your shoes to keep your heel from sliding forward in your shoe, especially when walking downhill.

Shoe Exterior

Worn Out Shoes
wikila / Getty Images

Constant pressure and rubbing from your big toe or your little toe may cause small holes to appear on the tops of your shoes. Worn-out uppers (the fabric covering the toe box) are a sure signifier that it’s time to replace your sneakers. Other holes may appear around the ankle cuff of the shoe due to ankle friction while walking. When you see a hole, it’s time to replace your shoes.

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. 

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. 

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.

Should You Wash Your Shoes?

It is tempting to want to wash dirty shoes, but soap and heat can break down the glue holding the shoe together. If you must wash your shoes, wash them by hand with mild soap and allow them to air dry. Washing and/or drying shoes in a clothes washer or dryer can shorten their lifespan. If your sneakers get wet, stuff newspapers into your shoes to soak up excess moisture.

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