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In the comments section of yesterday’s post, John Lofranco raised the topic of a subject that has been popping online and in newspapers over the past few days. You may have seen the headlines: “Running shoes are more dangerous than high heels” and so on. Here’s the press release, and here’s the full text of the study itself, “The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques,” by researchers at the University of Virginia. Here’s the key part of the press release:
In a study published in the December 2009 issue of PM&R: The journal of injury, function and rehabilitation, researchers compared the effects on knee, hip and ankle joint motions of running barefoot versus running in modern running shoes. They concluded that running shoes exerted more stress on these joints compared to running barefoot or walking in high-heeled shoes.
From what I can tell, this is solid research that suffered from the “broken telephone” effect, being successively distorted at each step. First, there’s the data they measured — useful stuff that sheds light on how our legs work. Then there’s the scientific paper, which in my opinion stretches the conclusions a little farther than the data currently warrant. Then there’s the press release, written by a PR person at the journal, which stretches things even further (the study, for instance, did not include any high-heeled shoes, and no direct comparisons between running shoes and high-heeled shoes were possible). Then there are the press articles, which rely on the press release… (There’s also this: “In July, [Kerrigan] left the University of Virginia to start her own company, JKM Technologies LLC, which will focus on developing her shoe in coming years.”)
Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World, in his Peak Performance blog, has written an excellent post in response to this study that is essential reading for anyone interested in running injuries and the role of shoes. As usual, it’s a nuanced point of view that neither praises nor buries the research. He points some of the leaps — the difference between measured torque in the knee and observing arthritis, the mismatched comparison between walking and running forces, the downplaying of the role of stride length. His main message is that this is a very complex field of research where little is known, so we should be open to new results but avoid gratuitous oversimplification. It’s definitely worth a read.