Should you wear tennis shoes to play tennis? It depends.

Should you wear tennis shoes to play tennis? It depends.

The terms "tennis shoes" and "sneakers" used to refer to just about any causal rubber-soled shoe. Not any more. Perhaps the best generic term now is "athletic" shoes. And they vary with the kind of physical activity you have in mind.

If you're a runner, getting the correct shoe is extremely important. "You can wear running shoes for walking, but never wear walking shoes for running," says Kristen Kusmider, manager of the Lady Foot Locker store in Medford.

Running shoes are designed for high impact on the heel, she points out. They have coils at the heels, either four or five. "The tread on the shoe helps you run. It grabs the ground," she adds. "Nurses like them if they have to be constantly on the run around the hospital."

But if you're into tennis, racquetball or another sport that requires sudden stops and starts, the word to remember is "court" shoe. These generally have a gum rubber sole which provides good traction on the court. Avoid playing racquetball or basketball in running or dark-soled shoes because they can leave scuff marks on the floor.

Another category is the training shoe, which Kusmider considers best for those into weight lifting, aerobics, or even dancing.

Shoes designed for walking shorter distances and everyday wear are generally known as "fitness" shoes. "Look for stability and support," says Dave Cook, manager of Johnson's Shoes in Medford.

Should you consider special arch supports?

These usually are not necessary, says Dr. Rick E. McClure of the Medford Foot & Ankle Clinic. "Most good athletic shoes already have removable arch supports in them. But if you feel you need more support, you can try any number of over-the-counter arch supports."

"If the feel is not right, try a different one," says Cook of those removable arch supports. They cost anywhere from $10 to $35.

If those don't do the job, ask a podiatrist about orthotics. These are individually-designed shoe inserts that correct an abnormal or irregular walking pattern. They're intended to allow people to stand, walk, and run more efficiently and comfortably. They are expensive, about $400, and have to be replaced about every three years, but they can provide comfort when other devices fall short.

And perhaps the most important consideration in buying any new shoe, says Dr. McClure, is getting the proper size, both in length AND width. "Most people forget about the width, and you often find people with wide feet trying to fit into narrow shoes, and vice versa."

"Fit is the most important thing," Cook agrees. "Get your foot measured every time. Check to see if the shoe you want to buy comes in several widths."

And consider the gender difference, Kusmider mentions, both in the shape of your foot and your stride.

You can find less expensive shoes. But those of high quality, be they for running, tennis or just walking, currently cost $80 to $120 a pair at most Rogue Valley shops. Choosing the right shoes can enhance your active life and the health of your feet.