What Wear Patterns Mean for Walking Shoes

Pay attention to signs of wear on your soles and heels for clues about your gait

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.

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 lead to knee pain and shin splints.
  • 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 lead to iliotibial (IT) band syndrome and stress fractures.

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

Heel Wear Patterns

Worn Shoe Compared with Newer Shoe

Wendy Bumgardner

The shoe on the left shows a normal shoe wear pattern after 350 miles, while the shoe on the right is the same model, same wearer, but 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.

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.

Sole Wear Patterns

Worn Toe of Walking Shoe

Wendy Bumgardner

Worn soles signify that you should replace your sneakers. 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.

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.
  • As pictured above, the wear is mostly along the outside edge of the shoe, closer to the little toe, which is typical of supination. 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.

Wrinkles in 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 the following:

  • 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
  • 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.)

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.

Wrinkles in 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.

Interior Wear

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.

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.

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.

Exterior Wear and Dirty Shoes

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.

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.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Naderi A, Degens H, Sakinepoor A. Arch-support foot-orthoses normalize dynamic in-shoe foot pressure distribution in medial tibial stress syndrome. Eur J Sport Sci. 2019;19(2):247-257. doi:10.1080/17461391.2018.1503337

  2. Beaufore J. What are the bottoms of your shoes telling you?. The Ohio State University Wexler Medical Center. 2017.

  3. Ayne F. How do I know when it is time to replace my athletic shoes?. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine.

  4. American College of Sports Medicine. Selecting running shoes. 2014.

Additional Reading