Everyone seems to have their favorite pair of shoes that they’ve had for years. They’re super comfortable and they just love them. Unfortunately, that super comfy pair of shoes often carries a price that their owners don’t realize, especially if they’re a pair of athletic shoes. Many people hold on to a pair of shoes and continue to wear them for walking, running or other activities well beyond what they should.
As an athletic trainer I don’t just evaluate and determine what is injured and how to take care of it, but I also look for the cause of the injury (arch problems, medial and lateral ankle problems, shin splints, calf and Achilles pain, knee pain, hip and low back pain…). All too often in my athletes, coaches, family and friends the cause is that beloved pair of shoes that they dearly love and think are so comfortable. They are comfortable because they are familiar, you’re used to them, and they’ve molded to your feet somewhat, but their cushioning and support are probably long gone**. They will often tell me that they’ve had them a year or longer and have never had a problem and will usually be certain that they can’t be the cause.
If you bend a wire, you usually don’t affect its strength. Bend it back, and usually still pretty strong. But, if you keep bending it back and forth eventually it will weaken and break. The human body can be similar in effect. You can cause stress on it and the body handles it just fine. Day after day, you keep apply that stress and slowly the body weakens and eventually with little or no warning it can break. That is basically what happens when you wear a pair of shoes too long, especially for athletics. The cushioning and support break down in a pair of shoes with wear and over the course of one athletic season they can go from being wonderfully cushioned and supportive shoes, to a chronic injury in the making. Set the shoe on a table and look at it from the front, if either side bows out/is stretched out, or it leans, then the support is gone. Push your thumb down inside the shoe on the heel. If it feels hard, then the cushioning is gone. Every body is different and every pair of shoes is different as well, so there is no hard set limit to how long a pair of shoes is good for, but I generally recommend that if the shoes are worn regularly for athletics that they should be replaced after a season of use. On the average, this is about the limit for a pair of shoes and to wear them any longer than that starts increasing the chances of an injury.
If you want to avoid an easily avoided chronic injury, do yourself a favor, change out you shoes regularly. The more you run, the more often you should do it. Before I changed from a heel striker, to a fore/midfoot runner I was going through 5-6 pairs of shoes a year. This is may be a bit much for most people, but at the very least, if you are using them often they should be replaced 2-3 times a year or every athletic season. Keep old faithful for doing yard work in the mud, and treat your feet to a new shoe.
**This is especially so for heel strike runners, which is how most modern athletes run. For fore and mid foot runners the age of shoe is less important.