How to select tennis shoes for performance and injury prevention

Select a Safe Tennis Shoe.   Tennis can be a treacherous sport for your feet and ankles. Tens of thousands of people each year worldwide seek medical advice for short term sprains or chronic ailments caused by a lack of care or knowledge in their choice of tennis footwear.

It’s easy to see why some poor choices are made: The term ‘Tennis Shoe’, (particularly in the US), has come to mean any athletic shoe. Playing tennis demands sudden sharp movements in any direction, and requires shoes that support the feet and ankles during these rapid changes in momentum. Other athletic shoes, like running shoes may not have the appropriate structure to prevent excessive lateral movement of the feet within the shoe, and abrasion or sprain injuries may result.

So firstly, make sure you choose a proper tennis shoe. The ATP and WTA Tour websites have lists of the top players and their choice of shoes if you need an idea for a make of tennis shoe to begin with. These shoes are often the manufacturers best model, designed to protect the feet of people who make a living out of tennis, and contain ‘state of the art’ technology  to this end. Despite this, they’re normally priced only a little higher than a ‘standard’ tennis shoe.

‘Cross Trainers’ can provide the answer for naturally sporty people who partake in a number of differing activities during any week. These are however a compromise, and people who play tennis three or more times a week should seriously consider buying tennis shoes specific to the sport.

Most of us have feet that do not perform optimally, leading to wear on the inside or outside sole of any footwear we purchase over time. Nearly two thirds of us have a low or flat arch causing over pronation, (excess rotation of the foot inwards), with increased wear on the inner edge of the shoe. About one fifth of people have the opposite – high arch ‘supination’ with consequent wear on the outer sole. Barely one tenth of us have ‘normal’ feet with even wear across the shoe.

If you have low arches, make sure your shoe has extra support fitted in the mid-foot area to counteract the rolling tendency. If you have high arches, choose a shoe with more cushioning in this area to absorb shocks and better stabilize the heel.

When assessing a shoe, don’t be afraid to take a little longer  to ensure the fit is perfect. Try on more than one if needed, wear your tennis socks, and test the shoe with sharp movements to mimic play on court. Slightly compress the shoe from heel to toe to ensure that it bends exactly where the ball of the foot lies. Where you might allow a little tightness in a non-sporting shoe, (to wear in), don’t do this with your tennis shoe. Check for perfect fit from toe to heel – gentle support but not too tight.

If you’re buying online, as more people are doing nowadays, most merchants allow easy return if a shoe doesn’t fit.They’re more than happy for multiple returns if needed, because a happy customer is likely to come back to them in future.

An external complication is the type of court surface to be played on. A tennis shoe suitable for playing on grass will not be appropriate for clay and vice versa. The pattern of tread on the sole indicates for which type of court the tennis shoe was designed. The best sole for indoor courts is nearly smooth, whereas a herringbone pattern is common in clay court shoes. A tennis shoe suitable for playing on grass will feature a regular rubber nodule pattern and outdoor hard court shoes combine the clay/grass court designs.

Generally speaking, hard courts present the most threat of injury to your feet as the better traction allows for shorter stopping distances and subject the foot and ankle to greater forces. Clay is the safest as it’s loose surface provides some cushioning and the ability to slide reduces stresses on the feet.

Some ancillary consideration may be given to age, strength, height, style and level of play of the shoe owner. A strong young player with an aggressive game will likely need the greater traction afforded by a shoe with a more defined pattern with greater rigidity. An older woman player with a game geared to slices and drop shots will probably require smoother more flexible women’s tennis court shoes.

Finally, try not to extend the life of your shoe too much. It’s very tempting to treat a well worn shoe like an old friend, but protective capabilities tend to reduce with age, and as with motor vehicles, safety features improve with every passing year.  

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