Running Footwear: Safety Gear or Setup for Injury?


Since the advent of the running craze in the 1970s, the athletic shoe industry has been perpetually evolving, adapting new technologies and materials to maximize shock absorption, gait stabilization and arch support. More recently, shoe makers have even thrown wearable tech into the mix.

Yet for all the apparent changes in style and functionality, the underpinnings of athletic shoe design remain the same: Corrective motion control, stability and structured cushioning have been and continue to be the standard fare of shoe design, based on the idea that there are certain “types” of foot plantar shapes that demand specific types of control and support.

The problem is that our understanding of how the foot contributes to energy production during running and jumping has radically changed. We now know that too much arch support can inhibit optimal performance, meaning the technology aimed at injury prevention may in fact contribute to injury.

Research Challenges the Premise of Shoe Design Based on Foot Type

Shoe manufacturers typically categorize shoe functionality in terms of plantar shape, defined as low, medium and high. The idea is to compensate for variance in running mechanics by “correcting” a runner’s gait. A 2010 study by Knapik et al. used Marine recruits in basic training to see whether shoes designed for specific plantar shapes significantly reduced the risk of training-related injuries.

At the time the study was conducted, recruits first arriving for basic training were issued a new pair of running shoes. Shoes were assigned based on the recruits’ foot surface area contacting the floor while standing, presumed to reflect foot arch height. Recruits with high arches were assigned cushioned shoes, those with low arches were assigned motion control, and those with medium arches were given stability shoes.

The study team wanted to see if injury risk could actually be reduced by assigning shoes based on plantar shape.

The Study

Participants were male and female Marine basic trainees whose feet were evaluated based on how much plantar surface came in contact with a specialized platform. Trained evaluators then rated participants’ feet as high arched, medium arched or low arched.

Recruits were then randomly assigned to one of two groups. The control group (432 men, 257 women) all got the same shoe style, a stability shoe, regardless of their foot type. The experimental group (408 men, 314 women) was given shoes based on their plantar shape. Injuries were tracked over the 12 week basic training period.

Regression analysis of collected data indicated no difference in the injury rate between the two groups, suggesting that shoes assigned based on plantar shape had no influence on injury risk. An even larger study by the same research team in 2014 corroborated the findings.

Comfort Trumps Shoe Design

An even more recent study conducted in 2017 evaluated running kinematics of 35 heel-to-toe runners in all three shoe types, and during barefoot running. The study’s authors concluded that most runners maintain their preferred movement path, regardless of shoe type. This suggests that shoes designed for specific foot types have little influence on essential gait mechanics.

At the end of the day, it would appear that runners and other athletes should select shoes based on comfort rather than category.

Running Gait Analysis and Retraining at NYDNRehab

Running shoes may not live up to the claims of manufacturers regarding performance and injury prevention. However, inefficient gait mechanics can lead to injuries that interfere with performance and may even be debilitating.

The sports medicine team at NYDNRehab uses the latest technology to analyze running gait mechanics and provide effective retraining. Our state-of-the art gait analysis laboratory enables our therapists to identify biomechanical and neuromuscular deficiencies. They are then able to design a personalized retraining protocol that corrects inefficient gait mechanics and optimizes performance.

Whether you are an elite athlete, a weekend warrior or a novice runner, a gait analysis at NYDNRehab can help you improve performance and prevent injury so you can enjoy running for years to come. Call today to schedule your personalized running gait analysis, and discover why NYDNRehab is the very best in NYC.


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