When it comes to running, shoes are one of the most important items you need to consider.
We have all experienced walking into a shoe store, or opening a shoe website, and being overwhelmed by the sheer number of varieties available to us. Options range from minimalist shoes with soles barely 1 mm thick to the trend of fat soled shoes with foam multiple inches thick.
As a therapist and runner, I am frequently asked, “what is the best shoe?” People are usually disappointed when I tell them that there is no such thing! In this blog, I will discuss the importance of shoes in running and address the question, “Are shoes the reason I am having pain with running?” The answer is not as straightforward as you may think. So, let’s dive in and explore some of the common preconceptions about running shoes.
For decades, experts and store clerks have been using a “simple” test to decide what kind of support people need in their shoes.
They would have people wet their feet and then stand on a piece of butcher paper to determine the arch shape. This test has evolved to high tech pressure plates, but it is the same idea. Despite being widely accepted, the test was not based on any real research. Recently, research has disproven its validity, showing no correlation between the shoes prescribed by the test and lack of injury from running.
It’s been long accepted that running shoes should be changed out every 3 months or 300 miles to preserve the supporting foam structure. However, research has proven this to be a myth. There is no significant difference in foam breakdown between 30 miles and 300 miles. This means that if foam was an important factor for replacing shoes, runners would be buying a new pair every week. Moreover, the idea that foam absorbs shock and reduces forces going into your body has been disproven too. The force reduction provided by a layer of foam strapped to the bottom of your foot is negligible, making buying new shoes often a waste of money.
As research continues to be conducted, it has become more apparent that the more supportive our shoes are, the more our brains attempt to rely on them resulting in the weakening and eventual shutdown of our muscles. This creates an environment for less effective movement and increases the chances of injury.
Now that I have destroyed all of your preconceptions about what a shoe can and cannot do for you, the question comes back to, what is the best shoe to prevent injury and help with performance? My answer to that question is that you are asking too much from a simple shoe.
Running and other activities can lead to injury or pain, and this likelihood can be predicted by certain factors, including:
– Control of movement
– Low muscle mass in the feet
– Inability to move and spread the toes
– Lack of ankle range of motion
– Low hip and rear end muscle mass
– Insufficient knee control during activities
These factors are more predictive of injury and pain than the type of shoe worn.
When our hips are weak, we often see our knees pointing towards each other when we walk or do stairs, which also causes our ankles to drop inwards and pronate. This fault can result in knee, ankle and foot pain.
Low muscle mass in your feet is detected by the ability to move and control your toes. Lack of strength in your feet causes the arch to drop increasing pain in the arch and or heel. Tight calf muscles and lack of ankle motion are also contributing factors to pain in your arch and heel.
Weakness in your hips and feet along with tight muscles and decreased range of motion increases your risk of injury and pain with simple activities like walking and using stairs. When extra forces from being overweight, running, jumping and performing higher level activities, the effect is amplified and shoes are simply unable to compensate for these faults.
Whether or not you are having pain, an appointment with one of our well-trained staff to identify specific weaknesses and movement faults can help prevent injury, improve performance and decrease pain with running, jumping, and other higher level activities.
As for buying new shoes, choose them based on what goes well with your outfit and what feels comfortable to wear, not necessarily by what the store clerk or pressure plates tell you!