Buying a sports shoe is no simple task. With special shoes for running, tennis, basketball, fiels sports, aerobics, gym, circuit training -even walking- and little, if any, change from $100, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. However, we’re not only spending for sporting benefits. For many, sports shoes are a vital fashion accessory, the ideal teammate for jeans. Plus, they’re just plain comfortable.

Wearing sports shoes for everyday activities is, in fact, a good choice. The jogger is the best shoe developed because it fulfills the three requirements of footwear. These are shock absorption for cushioning the feet to release stress, a high-rise enclosing heel for control and stability because the heel hits the ground first, and sufficient depth and width in the toe box for agility and stability.

So which shoe should you buy? If you concentrate on a particular sport you’ll find a shoe designed especially for that sport is worth the cost.

For instance, a tennis player needs extra stability in the heel because of the stop/start motion. Protection around the toe is also essential because the foot drags for serving and general play. As most tennis shoes are leather they need reinforcing. The sole must be tough, but while a ripple sole is needed for grass or clay, a smoother sole is better for hardcourt play where you are not as likely to slide.

And cushioning is another top priority. The shoe must be soft on the feet if you’re going to be on the court for hours. Cushioning is a major selling point for sports shoes, and has been since Nike intoduced Nike Air with its compressed air sack in the mid sole. Tiger shoes have the same thing with geland Reebok has ERS, the energy return system. A spring system in the mid sole returns energy to the person.” But what about the part-time fitness fan who does aerobics one week, runs 2km the next and plays tennis on the weekend?

Fortunately there’s a solution, thanks to cross-training shoes, which hit the market a year ago. These shoes are aimed at the person who does a number of sports at a low frequency, a sort of specialty shoe for the non-specialist. They range from $150 to $230 and are a big growth market. On the aerobics front, there have been radical footwear changes since the time when people used to wear slip-on dance shoes which lack shock absorption.

Wearing inappropriate shoes can exacerbate a variety of injuries including stress fractures, heel spur sydrome, Achilles tendonitis and shin splints.

Yet another way to invite trouble is by not wearing socks, a trend among teenagers. It’s essential to wear cotton or woollen hose for sweat absorption so the skin is less likely to lacerate, crack and peel. Cracks allow infections to spread. Synthetic football socks can lead to similar problems. As for the gym boots favored by teenagers, the extra ankle support isn’t really necessary except for leaping sports such as basketball, netball….

What to look for when buying sports shoes:

* The most important requirement is fit. Don’t choose a shoe because your friend down the road has a pair. Unless the shoe is suitable for you it is a waste of money. A good test is being able to move your toes.

* When buying running shoes, people with feet which roll inwards (arches are flatter when foot is pressed down) need a straighter shoe with a firm heel and a denser mid-sole to control movement. Feet that don’t roll in absorb less shock and need good shock absorption and curved shoes to promote motion.

* People who have trouble finding the right shoe may benefit from orthotics, where a mold is taken of the foot by a podiatrist and a tailor-made inner sole created to control motion. * Vanity can damage. Buying a too-small shoe because it’s flattering can cause unnecessary foot problems.

* Some people believe it’s a good idea to shop for shoes at the end of the day when feet are slightly larger. Wear socks usually worn for the sport. Try on both shoes and move around in them as you would for the sport.

* Serious runners can expect to buy a new pair of shoes every six to eight months. For aerobics four times a week, it would be six months to a year.

* Don’t leave wet shoes in the sun to dry and never leave them in front of a heater. Put them in a shady spot on the veranda and leave for a few days to air.