running shoes

The Science of Running Shoes: Separating Fact from Fiction

Running shoes have been a subject of much debate and folklore within the running community. With an abundance of conflicting advice and opinions, it’s often challenging for runners to determine which type of shoe is best for them. Some say you must get fitted for the perfect shoe at a local running store, while others advocate for minimalist shoes or argue against them entirely. Another belief is that shoes are the root cause of all running-related aches and pains. However, the scientific evidence supporting these claims is far from conclusive. In this article, we delve into a recent Cochrane review that attempted to answer the critical question: Do our shoes genuinely influence our risk of injury?

The review’s focus was on studies comparing different types of running shoes. To provide some context, let’s clarify some shoe categories commonly discussed in the running community:

  1. Motion-Control Shoes: Designed to correct excessive inward rolling of the feet (overpronation).
  2. Stability Shoes: Similar to motion-control shoes, these aim to reduce excessive foot motion.
  3. Neutral Shoes: These shoes don’t attempt to alter foot motion and allow a natural gait.
  4. Cushioned Shoes: Neutral shoes with extra cushioning for comfort.
  5. Minimalist Shoes: Feature minimal cushioning and aim to mimic barefoot running.
  6. Hard and Soft Midsoles: Refers to the firmness of the shoe’s midsole material.

Each shoe category has its proponents, each claiming that their preferred style reduces the risk of injury. If shoes played as significant a role in injury prevention as some suggest, the Cochrane review should have provided clear evidence of a direct link between shoe choice and injury rates. However, the review’s meta-analysis of 12 studies involving over 11,000 participants resulted in inconclusive findings.

Here are some key takeaways from the review:

  1. Neutral/Cushioned vs. Minimalist Shoes: The choice between these styles “may make little or no difference,” and there’s no consensus on which style runners prefer more.
  2. Motion-Control vs. Neutral/Cushioned Shoes: The evidence is inconclusive, with “very low certainty” regarding whether motion-control shoes are better or worse for injury prevention.
  3. Soft vs. Hard Midsoles: Soft midsole shoes are not significantly better than hard midsole shoes in preventing lower limb running injuries.
  4. Stability vs. Neutral/Cushioned Shoes: It remains uncertain whether stability shoes reduce the risk of lower limb running injuries compared to neutral/cushioned shoes.
  5. Stability vs. Motion-Control Shoes: It’s uncertain whether motion-control shoes are more effective at reducing injury risk compared to stability shoes.
  6. Prescribing Shoes Based on Foot Type: The evidence suggests that prescribing shoes based on static foot posture does not reduce injury rates when compared to those who receive shoes without a prescription based on foot posture, especially in military recruits.

It’s essential to note that the review’s results come with a caveat. Reviews are only as reliable as the studies they analyze, and many of the available studies were of “low certainty.” Therefore, there is a possibility that one type of shoe may be superior to another, but the evidence does not reveal a significant difference.

The one exception with more solid evidence is the practice of prescribing shoes based on foot type, which falls under the category of “moderate certainty” evidence. This suggests that there’s likely no need to undergo a professional evaluation of your feet to determine which shoes to buy.

So, which running shoes should you buy? Amidst the complex web of hypotheses and opinions, one simple piece of advice remains true: run in shoes that feel comfortable. This advice aligns with what many experienced runners and coaches have been emphasizing for years.

However, it’s crucial to recognize that while shoe choice may play a role in injury prevention, other factors are likely more significant. The volume and intensity of your running, the type of running you do, and additional factors like strength training may have a more substantial influence on injury risk than your choice of shoes.

In summary, if you’re content with your current running shoes and have experienced no issues, there’s often no need for a change. Moreover, it’s time to dispel the myth that new runners must undergo intricate assessments of their feet or that shoes are the sole culprits behind running injuries. Instead, consider a holistic approach that considers all aspects of your running routine and body mechanics. Ultimately, finding the right pair of running shoes is a personal journey that should prioritize comfort and enjoyment over unwarranted complexity and dogma.