Despite dramatic changes in running shoe design over the past 4 decades there has been no reduction in the frequency of running injuries.
There has been much debate about the advantages or disadvantages of barefoot-style vs traditional vs motion control running shoes.
What is a barefoot-style shoe?
Barefoot-style runners are light-weight “minimalist” shoes with less heel cushioning, intended to facilitate a forefoot-strike landing pattern rather than the heel-strike which typically occurs in conventional running shoes. The rationale is that the impact forces in forefoot landing are less than in heel striking which will reduce injury risk.
Is barefoot-style running better?
Recently, research has supported the idea that forefoot striking reduces the impact forces. However, overall they have not shown that reduced impact forces translate to reduced injuries, nor have they demonstrated a clear benefit of one running style or shoe style over the other.
What about pronation?
Motion-control running shoes seek to minimize excessive pronation (in-rolling of the foot). It is important to recognize that some pronation is normal. Mildly pronated feet (7-10 degrees) actually have a lower incidence of injury as compared to neutral feet. On the other hand, excessive pronation (>10 degrees) has been shown to notably increase frequency of running injuries. In these cases, an orthotic placed in a comfortable runner may assist in reducing the range of pronation the foot experiences.
So what shoes should you choose?
A recent paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, October 2015, highlighted several papers which found that when runners simply chose a shoe or insole which was comfortable to run in they had less injuries. What was particularly interesting was that there was no pattern in the type of shoes/ insoles which the runners preferred. There is a growing sentiment among researchers that comfort is an important consideration in choosing running shoes or insoles. This philosophy is appealing in its “patient-centred” approach and acknowledgement that different bodies may favour different biomechanics.
Take home message.
There are many different causes to running injuries beyond just footwear or running style. If you are having pain with running, get assessed by a health practitioner with experience treating sports injuries to help determine the cause.
We all have to choose shoes to run in. Be confident that if they’re not comfortable, they’re not for you.