Picking the right shoe can be a daunting task for any runner. Popular opinion about what type of footwear is best seems to change every few months. Are neutral shoes actually better than supportive? What about barefoot running? What if you've been told that your feet pronate?
The way that your foot strikes the ground when you run is the most common diagnostic tool for determining what kind of shoe is appropriate for you. The ideal is for your foot to first roll outward slightly before rolling inward when it hits the ground. Then, when your foot leaves the ground again, it should roll a little bit outward again. If your feet roll too much or too little, this can lead to injury.
Supination is when your feet don't roll out or in when it hits ground, which can make it hard for your feet to absorb the shock of hitting the ground.
Neutral pronation--the ideal footstrike--is when your foot rolls inward a bit when it hits the ground.
If your feet over-pronate, they roll too far inward when they hit the ground. This can create problems with alignment if not corrected.
A Canadian study randomly matched female runners, regardless of posture types (neutral, pronated and highly pronated) with neutral, stability and motion controlled running shoes. The authors found that conventional wisdom about which type of shoe is best doesn't hold up to scrutiny. In fact, evidence suggests that the wearer's comfort level (which is subjective) is a better predictor of a shoe's ability to prevent injury.
Over the last few decades, "barefoot" or minimalist running has become increasingly popular. Proponents cite the prevalence of barefoot running in ancient and modern-day Kenya, as well elsewhere in the world. The way that a barefoot runner's foot strikes the ground is markedly different than a shod runner, potentially protecting the foot from chronic injury. However, evidence is inconclusive as to whether barefoot running actually spares feet from injury. One recent study showed that new minimalist runners had small fractures in their feet, while another found an increased risk of injury, especially pain at the shin and calf, with full minimalist shoes.
In a review of barefoot running studies and articles from 1980-2011, the authors found minimal data that support barefoot running; What was found to be more helpful was "running with a forefoot strike pattern instead of a heel strike pattern to reduce ground reaction forces, ground contact time, and step length." A different review found that barefoot running does not reduce injury rates; "While barefoot running may benefit certain types of individuals, differences in running stance and individual biomechanics may actually increase
injury risk when transitioning to barefoot running."
While the debate rages on, here are a few tips to get you up and running:
If you're concerned about your running posture or if you've sustained an injury, contact Hall Health to schedule an appointment.
New York Times articles about running, including the barefoot running debate.
Authored by: Hall Health Center Health Promotion staff
Reviewed by: Hall Health Center Sports Medicine Clinic staff, February 2014