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Which Running Shoe is for Me?

Published: 15th Mar 2016   



If you're a runner you've probably stood in a sports shop and thought Where on Earth do I start? Running shoes have certainly changed over the past 50 years with trends changing from cushioned heels to motion control soles and back to minimalist or free style shoes, but have advances in shoe technology reduced running related injuries at all?

First of all it is important to note that running is just about one of the safest sports out there, with a very low injury rate compared to other sports and health benefits galore. The boom in running popularity began in the 1970s. Initially, the early adopters were predominately men, 75% of whom ran competitively. But through the 80s and into the 2000s the population changed and the majority of runners are recreational with over 50% of them women.

As the number of people taking to the streets for a run increased so, of course, did the injury rates. Traditionally the two greatest risk factors for injury in runners were thought to be the high impact forces caused at heel strike and excessive foot pronation (i.e. the inward roll of the foot). These two factors heavily influenced shoe design from the 70s onwards but without any concrete research evidence to support the notion that either actually caused more injuries.

Benno Nigg, one of the worlds leading professors of biomechanics who specialises in running performance writes in the British Journal of Sports Medicine "If high impact forces cause injury then running faster would be associated with more injuries but this is not the case".

So it would appear the assumption that impact forces cause injury does not seem to be supported by expert opinion or evidence. The concern over high impact forces stimulated the 80s and 90s trends for cushioned heels and the perhaps unnecessary ever increasing size of high density foam wedged sole. However, all to no avail as these footwear advances did not change injury rates.

Interestingly we find similar results regarding pronation of the foot which is also not believed to be as closely linked to injury as previously thought. A study by Nielson et al (2014) found that over pronation was only linked to injury if it was above 10 degrees. In fact the author's results showed that a pronation angle of 7 - 10 degrees actually linked to a lower risk of injury than a neutral foot. So it would appear that some foot pronation and higher impact forces are not the root of all running evil, as was previously thought.

With these facts in mind it is not so surprising that the answer to our original question is no, advances in shoe design have not reduced running related injury rates. Now before we all give up and go for a run in a pair of hob nail boots, you do need to choose the right set of shoes for you. More recent research has potentially been more successful at finding a link between running shoes and injury, but it is not by matching our foot type to a certain type of shoe or reducing impact forces.

Studies assessing shoe comfort have found that performing in a shoe that feels comfortable does correlate with a reduced rate of injury (Munderman et al 2001; Nigg, 2010; Luo et al 2009) . Nigg et al (2015) inform that a runner has a built in comfort filter and it is the best way to find a running shoe that can help reduce injury. Some people feel comfortable with an arch support while others do not, regardless of foot type or arch height.

Another interesting piece of research compared injury rates between three different types of shoe design. Ryan et al (2014) compared the Nike Pegasus (a neutral shoe), Nike Free (a partial control shoe) and the Vibram 5 Fingers (minimalist shoe) and found that the neutral shoe had the lowest injury rate and the minimalist shoe had the highest.

This tells us that it would appear we do not need to spend ages matching our foot type to a specific type of shoe, but it is worth spending time working out which shoe we feel comfortable in. It is not so much as which shoe is right for us but perhaps which is wrong for us. To determine this we need to use our inbuilt comfort filter and trust what we feel. Choose the most comfortable shoe and avoid those that feel uncomfortable - now is that not common sense?

If you need any help decoding running shoes or running style then contact the Stubbington Natural Health Clinic to see a physio or podiatrist, or book in for a gait analysis session and maybe we can bust a few myths for you. Call 01329 665871 or visit the SNHC Facebook page.

Source Material:
Nielson, Parner and Nohr (2014). Foot pronation is not associated with increased risk of injury. Br J Sports Med

Ryan et al. (2014). Examining injury risk and foot pain in runners with minimalist foot wear. Br J Sports Med

Nigg et al. (2015). Running shoes and running injuries. Br J Sports Med

  


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