DISCLAIMER: No 1 sneaker is the BEST. No 1 sneaker is right for everyone. No 1 sneaker will "cure" plantar fasciitis or "fix" IT band syndrome.
Altra and Topo sneaker brands have gained popularity in the past few years. They have become popular among runners, weekend warriors, and those who spend a lot of time standing and walking. Just like most shoe-wear companies, Altra and Topo have designed numerous models that are appropriate for certain environments (road vs trails vs casual daily wear).
So, what makes an Altra or Topo sneaker different from other sneaker brands?
Unique Qualities of Altra & Topo Sneakers:
1. Wide Toe Box: this allows the toes to spread out in a more natural manner
- If I tied a rubber band around your fingers all day long how do you think your fingers would feel? Squished and sore! Well, your toes are not any different. We have adapted to a societal "norm" of squishing our toes into shoes that are too narrow; this not only has negative implications for your feet, but it can also contribute to injuries and pain through the knee, hip, and back. When the small intrinsic muscles of the foot are not able to contract appropriately (because they are squished) the body begins to rely on other accessory muscles, which often leads to overuse injuries.
- Bunions: When the toe box of a shoe is too narrow it can contribute to the development of a bunion. A narrow toe box will often contribute to increased irritation and pain of a pre-existing bunion. A wide toe box allows for the natural space to exist between our toes, which provides the big toe with enough space to bend in a straight plane; this helps prevent bunions from forming and allows for better mechanics at the end of our stride.
- When your toes have enough space to splay they can provide you with a better foundation and improved stability. If you do not have that foundation then your toes often start gripping excessively and this increases your risk of developing an injury.
So, how do you know if the toe box in your sneaker is wide enough? Take the insole out of your shoe and step on it. Do any of your toes hang off the edge? If yes, then they are being squished to fit into your shoe.
**A common misconception is that Altra and Topo are wide shoes... this is not true. The only aspect of the shoe that is wider is the toe box.
2. Neutral Low Drop
The amount of "Drop" in a sneaker is simply the differential in the height of the heel vs the toe. Most sneakers range from 0-12+ mm.
This is an area where the Altra and Topo are slightly different from eachother.
The Altra is a zero drop shoe, meaning that there is the same amount of material under the heel and under the ball of the foot (making the heel and toe the same distance from the ground).
Topo sneakers range from 0-5 mm of drop.
A shoe with a lower heel-to-toe drop number will facilitate more of a mid to forefoot strike when running. It can also help allow the pelvis to be in a more neutral position, which can allow your hips to be more efficient at propulsion. This is great for some people, but similarly it can be "poison" for other people (for example, someone with very inflamed achillles tendonitis would likely not do as well in a low drop sneaker).
**A common misconception in regards to heel-to-toe drop is the actual amount of cushioning. A zero drop sneaker can have no cushion, or it can have a lot of cushion, but it remains consistent through the ENTIRE base of the shoe.
Why does all of this matter?
So you can make more informed decisions when you choose the foundation (ie- sneaker) that your body is moving ontop of!
Good movement mechanics can be reinforced by the right shoe. But, the right shoe will not fix bad movement mechanics. Get assessed to learn what you can do to improve your movement mechanics, then let's chat about what shoes may be best for you!
Also, I urge you to take a look at this GREAT blog post written by Dr. Neil Feldman (Central Mass Podiatry) about his answer when a patient asks, “What type of shoe should I purchase?”