It’s a common question, and one that throws out all sorts of jargon, such as ‘forefoot & hindfoot’, ‘overpronation’ and ‘neutral foot shape’. But what do all these terms mean, and how relevant are they to you? There are a lot of myths around footwear advice, so I am here to give you the best, evidence-based summation to help you decide what is in your best interest.
Initially, I want to tackle the myths. The first myth is the average sports shop assessment from an unqualified shop assistant. Interestingly, some research has found not only that this system of diagnosis doesn’t reduce injury frequency, but some of the test subjects actually had an increase in injury rate if assessed by an unqualified foot assessor.
So when does it matter to buy the correct shoes? Shoe selection is overrated – strength and conditioning programs have been shown to be more helpful.
There are three key points when it comes to shoe selection:
- Don’t make a big change
- Go for comfort
- Go lighter
Footwear can be very important when adopting a radical footwear change from big-heeled, cushioned trainers to a more minimalist shallow sole (1). If pain begins after this change then it is likely to be caused by the running shoe change.
Finally, something that could be a greater causative factor than the shoes could be running technique or changes in distance of the run.
There is suggestion that minimalist/barefoot running may improve running economy, which leads to better performance (1). Some of the studies are mixed on this however. Again, a good rehab/running training can have a more substantial effect, but a more minimalist shoe may help performance. If it works for you, more minimalist shoe has been shown to reduce pressure on the knee joints.
This may not all be bad, because if you are wearing heavier shoes then although it may make you slower, but helps you your metabolic rate – adding 100g to a shoe increases metabolic rate by around 1% (1) (which is significant). The cushioning to a shoe can help reduce muscle activity required to absorb impact therefore may reduce injury rates.
If you do decide to change, it’s important to know that this transition may increase injury frequency even if the transition is slow and well controlled. Long and short term studies have shown that the biggest injury risk is with major running shoe type change.
We all know the feeling when the running shoes feel a little bit spongy, less firm and look tired. But when we do need to start thinking about changing? Regardless how warm they are, there may be very little change in running gait once the shoes start to wear. What this is saying is that we probably start to adapt our style as the shoes wear, but we don’t know a precise figure on when to change the shoes. Our recommendation is go on feeling, especially over the advice from someone trying to sell you shoes!
The evidence says shoes start to loose shock absorption after around 150 miles, however studies suggest should think about changing your shoes after 400-600 miles. Personally, I feel it is best to go on feeling within the 400-600 mile bracket.
And Finally, advice on running shoe choice for injury prevention
Essentially, it is personal preference. Something I have found to be useful is reduce walking to and from work in hard shoes and then run in soft cushioned shoes. That juxtaposition can be unhelpful to the way your body is trying to adapt to walking and running. If you have a particular type of running shoe, try and match that with your walk to work shoes.
A big talking point when considering shoe type to reduce injury is foot pronation. Pronation of the foot can result in plantar fascia pain and shin splints or compartment syndrome.
Ultimately as mentioned before, shoe selection is secondary if you want to reduce injury. A good rehab program and technique assessment is the best option if you really want to reduce your injury risk. It also increases your running ability – despite what the shops are telling you!
For any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask:
0161 209 2980
Ed Madeley M.Ost
- Fuller et al. 2017. Six week transition to minimalist shoes improves running economy and time-trial performance.
- Hoogkamer W1, Kipp S, Spiering BA, Kram R. Altered Running Economy Directly Translates to Altered Distance-Running Performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Nov;48(11):2175-2180.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27327023