We find one of the most overlooked beauties of running is the simple fact that so little equipment is needed. Being practical you throw on a shirt, shorts, socks, and shoes. Four items...check! Throw on a watch for some techie flare and we're all set. If it were only that easy, right? If you have ever spent hours on end googling reviews of the best running shoes for the year, sat endlessly in the running store trying on shoe after shoe after shoe, or begged anyone and everyone for their two cents on their favorite running shoes then this article is for you. You are that meandering soul in search of Monty Python's Holy Grail of footwear and TPT is here to beam that bright light of hope on your solution. You ask,
"Please Zen Master of running, end my pain and reveal the Ultimate Running Shoe for my foot."
Zen Master reveals this hidden truth...
"The ultimate running shoe for your foot is," ....................... suspense building, strike of a gong, and with the heaviest pounding of the beat of your heart about to unleash from within your chest, your answer is revealed....
"whichever shoe feels the best on your foot!"
Really? What kind of prank is this? I came here for the end all solution and this is what I get? All jokes aside let's dig deeper...
When we look back over the past 25 years of research relative to footwear for runners and injury rates we find an array of evidence that stacks up to support the notion that there is no notion! What does this mean? It simply means that the past 25 years of design and marketing from shoemakers does not hold up well against investigation relative to injury rates of runners. The results of years of studies fail to confirm that shoe prescription can successfully provide its marketed purpose for all individuals.
A look at the past 25 years of broad movement of running shoes follows this basic transition.
The first movement was to categorize footwear based on one's arch height/type. From this concept came the genesis of three sole concepts. The motion control, stability, and neutral shoe was born for a low arch, mild arch, and high arch respectively. Next came the obsession to reduce someone's degree of pronation. We tried to blame a number of foot and lower leg problems on over pronation and if someone was flat footed then it was a golden rule to "provide arch support." While there is some truth to injury from over pronation, being able to determine what is "normal" for each individual simply does not exist. There is also no consistent backing of evidence to suggest that an arch support within a shoe either from the construction of the sole itself nor from an orthotic will reduce the incidence of foot or lower leg injury. There have been numerous studies that have been able to observe unpredictable rearfoot and midfoot movement of the bones of the foot despite being placed in motion control shoes or orthotics. This means there are too many variables of anatomy and mechanics to account for simply by using a motion control shoe. To this day there are still people that disagree with this fact and stand steadfast in support of anti pronation shoes and/or custom orthotics. We're not here to argue and also are not standing on the opposite side of the debate to say "don't buy anti pronation shoes or orthotics." Again, there is no mass of research to either support or decline the notion of assigning a shoe based solely on one's arch type. But we do hold steady to say that motion control shoes with or without custom orthotics are not a solution for everyone including people with flat feet. They may work for you, but you should not force yourself into a motion control/orthotic just because you feel you have flat feet.
The second movement came in the early 2000s with the minimalist shift. The minimalist movement sought to prove that the closer you brought your foot into contact with the ground the more "reactive" your foot would become and thus would reduce injury. There is definitely gain to be achieved with walking in a minimalist shoe or being barefoot to create a varied "feel" to the foot. This encourages varied stress to the tissues of the lower leg and foot and forces the foot to "keep guessing." Some will argue that the human body was designed to be barefoot and that early humans in fact were barefoot. We say, "where were concrete and asphalt roads/floors in those early years?" We are not advocates of forcing yourself to run in a minimalist shoe just to stay with the trendy crowd. Your foot will either tolerate it or hate it. Listen to your foot and if you are having recurring foot problems, we need to assess if the shoe is a contributor based on your anatomy.
The third and most recent movement has been a max cushion sole with dedicated attention to the heel to toe drop. We think of this as the general pendular swing from the crowd that jumped into the minimalist shoe, had problems, then jumped drastic ship back in the other direction. There is a general recommendation that is concluded from the research over the past 25 years and that is "use as minimal of a shoe as your specific foot can get away with." It's likely in our opinion that the maximum cushion sole trend will once again shift elsewhere as many of these shoes are bulkier and heavier and runners will fall out of favor with those aspects. The heel to toe drop ratio concept is currently under investigation but has yet to demonstrate any statistical significance across the board when it comes to injury reduction.
So the jury of injury prevention is still out on the science of running shoes when held up to the test against the research. It may never be solved but one thing is for certain and that is the popularity of running will never die. Because of the demand of running, comes the supply of apparel. Science is obsessed with finding evidence to provide truth. As it exists now, it is too difficult to predict what type of movement will occur within the shoe based on a person’s variable anatomy and mechanics. So now you have it, the ultimate shoe to prevent injury for the runner does not exist. You should use whatever shoe feels that best on your foot FROM THE MOMENT YOU STEP INTO THE SHOE! Tennis shoes do NOT have a "break in" period so if it feels strange from the get go, then toss it aside and keep looking. If you'd like to read more on our simple checklist for tennis shoes then check out our Quick Screen Guide for Choosing Tennis Shoes HERE. We also recommend that if a shoe feels comfortable to your feet and you have recurring injuries during and after running then don't immediately waste your time and money searching for a new shoe. First seek advice of highly qualified mechanical analysis professional such as your team at Total Physical Therapy.
Be sure not to miss out on any of our running health information and other health and fitness pearls by joining our mailing list HERE.