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Do running shoes reduce injuries?

February 27th, 2011

This week’s Jockology column is now posted on the Globe and Mail website. It takes on a topic that’s reasonably familiar to readers of this blog: whether the “right” running shoes will reduce your risk of getting injured:

[...] “I was completely convinced that impact is something bad, and pronation is something bad, and I wanted to show that,” recalls Benno Nigg, a biomechanics researcher and co-director of the University of Calgary’s Human Performance Lab, who helped shape the original theory of pronation.

The initial studies were promising. Specialized running shoes, designed to address different degrees of under- or overpronation, could indeed reduce the impact forces shooting up through the legs of runners in lab testing. In the United States, sales of these high-tech shoes jumped from 25 million pairs in 1988 to 40 million in 2009, and growth was similar in Canada.

But there was just one problem: Running injuries didn’t disappear…[READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE]

I also spoke to Michael Ryan, the researcher whose UBC/Nike randomized trial of different shoe types made a huge splash last year:

“We were a bit nervous, because … if you see someone who is highly pronated, putting them in a neutral shoe may be a recipe for causing more pain,” acknowledges Michael Ryan, the study’s lead author, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin.

He needn’t have worried…

In terms of practical advice, the article ran with a sidebar that doesn’t appear to be posted online, so I’ll add it here:

Picking a running shoe
Shoe researchers Benno Nigg and Michael Ryan agree that comfort is a good starting point for picking a running shoe. Some other factors to consider:

  • You can only assess comfort by actually running in the shoe. Many running stores will allow you to run around the block or on a treadmill.
  • Don’t ignore fit in favour of fancy shoe features. Find a brand and/or model that fits the specific characteristics of your foot, such as width.
  • Dr. Ryan’s research suggests that heavier, bulkier shoes may be associated with more injuries. So all else being equal, choose a lighter shoe.
  • If you’re making a radical switch (trying minimalist shoes for the first time, for example), take it slow. Expect to spend four to six months adjusting to the new shoes.
  • If you’re currently running successfully in a certain type of shoe, stick with it!