Shoe-buyers must pick right fit
Folk who think that top-brand running shoes are just pretty fashion accessories have got it all wrong, according to a professor of sports who has studied foot injuries.
Stefan Grau of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden says the industry is offering products that really are engineered to keep you safe.
But the onus is on shoppers to buy the shoe that suits their foot.
The 1980s and 1990s saw major advances in the design of running shoes. As jogging began to boom globally, running shoe manufacturers put great importance on materials that absorbed energy impacting the feet.
Extremely soft soles cushioned the feet every time they hit the ground.
But injury rates did not go down, so shoe makers then decided to invest in support and stabilisation of the feet. A system of stiffeners integrated into the shoe prevented the foot from twisting inwards. But joggers still complained about injuries.
Some experts claimed shoemakers were failing, despite the enormous amount of time and money they had put into their designs, but Grau says that was a misconception.
At the beginning of the jogging boom, it was mainly well-trained people who engaged in the sport, he explained.
“But today we have many under-trained people running and yet we are not seeing more injuries. Safety features built into running shoes are having the desired effect,” he said. But shoes’ protective function only succeed when the model matches the foot.
Grau says the nature of a person’s ankle plays a big role when jogging. If an ankle tends to be unstable, the technology in the right running shoe can help. That’s when a shoe’s cushioning properties at the heel of the foot can prevent injury.
Grau also says it’s important that a running shoe fits properly.
Small feet tend to be wide, while large feet tend to be narrow. A woman with European size 42 is considered to have a large foot and therefore the shoe should ideally have a narrow sole. For men, size 42 is a small foot, so the shoe’s sole should be somewhat wider.
According to Grau, the very soft soles that running shoes had in the past made them unstable.
“As a result there was an explosion in ligament and tendon injuries.” But a soft sole is still the right shoe for a person who is untrained and has weak muscles in their feet.
For people who are well-trained, Grau says it’s essential that the shoe fits properly. Manufacturers recommend wearing a shoe a half a size larger than your normal shoe because the foot moves inside the shoe as you are running and needs a bit more space.
The shoe should fit snuggly around the mid-section of the foot - the metatarsus - and the ankle should never slip out of the shoe, otherwise you risk injuring the tendon there.
Professor Gert-Peter Brueggemann from the Institute of Biomechanics and Orthopaedics at the German Sports High School in Cologne says it’s also important to make sure your knees are fit enough to go jogging.
Almost 50% of all running injuries are knee injuries.
But the question is what does the foot have to do with the knee?
Every knee has its own rhythm of movement, according to Brueggemann.
If that routine is disturbed during running, you need to wear a shoe that lessens that effect.
“The shoe should be good enough to reduce the amount of force that is being transferred to the knee joint. That’s the only way to prevent an injury,” says the expert.
The era when feet and legs were forced to move in ways that were unnatural is over.
“A shoe should always support the natural movement of a foot,” says Brueggemann.