Physical Therapists Using Clinical Analysis To Discuss The Art And Science Behind Running and The Stuff We Put On Our Feet

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Running Shoes for People with Haglund's Deformity
Or, the Shoes without Rigid Heel Counters List

Heel counters are one of the many footwear components that are commented on here at Doctors of Running. Heel counters are (usually) a rigid piece of material embedded in or molded around the upper of the rearfoot. The purpose is to provide structure to this part of the shoe and potentially stabilize the heel. There are now several variations, going from ones that wrap completely around the heel, to split heel counters (a piece left out at the rearmost portion) and even super thin heel counters just to keep the upper from collapsing. While many people do well with these stiffening agents, some with sensitivities at or around their heel sometimes do not.

Written By Chief Editor Matt Klein
Edited by Content Manager Bach Pham

I (Matt Klein) always comment on the structure, stiffness and padding around this structure. Outside of having some insertional Achilles tendon problems (which may or may not be the inspiration for my current PhD dissertation), I have had a long history with Haglund's deformities. These are actually quite common and the stiff heel counters are known to be troublesome for those with sensitivity back in this area. While heel counters can be beneficial for structure and security at the heel, how they are designed and their stiffness may or may not work for a variety of people.

About Haglund's Deformity/Syndrome

A Haglund Deformity refers to the enlargement of the posterior-most section of the heel (Sella et al., 1998). This is also referred to as a "Pump Bump" and can be caused by a variety of things. These include boney growth of the rear portion of the calcaneus in response to stress/pulling from the Achilles tendon, inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa, inflammation of the supracalcaneal bursa or from swelling/inflammation at the Achilles tendon insertion.

Regardless of which structure is to blame, these are quite common and pressure on this area can be quite irritating. Those with Haglund deformities or similar issues are often quite sensitive to excessive pressure at their heels and can have great difficulty with stiff heel counters. As mentioned, this footwear component provides structure and sometimes stability to the rearfoot by stiffening up the rearfoot. Although many companies often add padding/cushioning to the heel collar and area in front of the heel counter, this can still create uncomfortable pressure for those with this pathology (which only becomes more uncomfortable/painful as the cushioning compresses). 

For that reason, I frequently reference whether shoes have heel counters in my reviews and thought it might be helpful to create a centralized list for those looking for shoes that may work with sensitive heels. 


Sella, E. J., Caminear, D. S., & McLarney, E. A. (1998). Haglund's syndrome. The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery37(2), 110-114.

Haglund's Deformities and Heel Counters

Although most shoes have heel counters, an increasing number either do not or have flexible options for those with sensitivities at the rearfoot. We have compiled a list of recent footwear that either have flexible heel counters, modified heel counters that take pressure off the back of the heel while still creating structure and shoes that do not have heel counters.

Running Shoes with Flexible to No Heel Counters
(Click to Learn More About Each Shoe)

Shoes with Flexible Heel Counters
(Features non-rigid material that is fully bendable, but retains shape for support)

Neutral Trainers
Altra Escalante 3 (zero drop trainer)
Altra Rivera 4 (zero drop trainer)
Altra Timp 5 (Trail)
Altra Vanish Tempo
(zero drop workout trainer)
Asics EvoRide Speed
(rockered moderate stack trainer)
New Balance Fresh Foam More v4 (premium cushioned trainer)
On Cloudflow 4 (firmer, moderate stacked trainer)
On Cloudswift 3 (firmer rockered trainer)
Puma Liberate Nitro 2 (flexible, moderate stacked trainer)
Salomon Phantasm (workout trainer)
Saucony Kinvara 14
(flexible, moderate stacked trainer)

Stability Trainers
Altra Provision 8
(zero drop, geometry stability)
Altra Paradigm 7 (zero drop, guidance stability)

Performance Trainers
Adidas Adios 8 (snappy workout trainer)
Brooks Hyperion GTS (mild stability trainer)
New Balance FuelCell Rebel v3 (cushioned workout trainer)
Nike Streakfly
(lightweight workout trainer)
Topo Athletic Cyclone 2  (versatile low drop trainer)
Topo Athletic Specter (low drop, workout trainer)

Carbon Plated Racing Shoes
Asics Metaspeed Sky+
Asics Metaspeed Edge+ 
Asics Metaspeed Sky Paris
Asics Metaspeed Edge Paris
Brooks Hyperion Elite 3 
Salomon S/Lab Phantasm 2

Shoes with a Split Heel counter
(Two separate counters on the sides with an open spot in the rear for the heel bone)

Adidas Solar Glide 5 (premium daily trainer)

No Heel Counters
(Features no padding or support, just the upper itself)

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Thanks for reading!

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