Running Injuries May Not Have Anything to Do with Footwear

Running has gained popularity over the years and the demand for running shoes continues to rise. According to The Sports & Fitness Industry Association, close to 30 million Americans have reported to run at least 50 times in 2012. This is a 3% increase in participation compared to the previous year. (1)

Distance running can take a toll on a person’s body, especially for those who have already experienced a running-related injury in the past year. This increases the risk of recurring injuries. (2) Many people set out to purchase quality running shoes even if it means to spend hundreds of dollars, but do proper footwear actually help?

Types of running shoes to choose
Some research suggest that modern running shoes that are heavily cushioned and have elevated heels could more likely encourage runners to hit the ground with their heels first. This move supposedly generates more collision force with the ground, which can lead to an increased potential for injuries. (3)

There are so many running shoes options to choose from, so which one is correct? Should one buy barefoot, lightweight, or heavily cushioned shoes? In the past few years, more people have shown interest in barefoot running or shoes that provides the minimal cushioning. In fact, there has been a 300% increase with minimalist shoes compared to only 19% in regular running shoes. (1)

It may have nothing to do with footwear
According to one study, when humans ran barefooted, the forefront- and mid-foot-strike gaits were much more common and may protect injuries in the feet and lower limbs compared to the heavily cushioned and elevated shoes, which may encourage runners to strike heel-first. (4)

As reported by the Harvard researchers in the journal Nature, “Humans have engaged in endurance running for millions of years, but the modern running shoe was not invented until the 1970s. For most of human evolutionary history, runners were wither barefoot or wore minimal footwear… …habitually barefoot endurance runners often land on the fore-front before bringing down the heel, but they sometimes land with a flat-foot or, less often, on the heel. In contrast, habitually shod runners mostly rear-foot strike, facilitated by the elevated cushioned heel of the modern running shoe.” (3,4)

The researchers continued, “Kinematic and kinetic analyses show that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who fore-foot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers.” (3,4) This study may be good evidence as to why Kenyan runners or in populations where barefoot is of norm are able to run and walk long distances with very minimal pain or injuries. (3,5)

Several factors that influence running risks
For anyone to pick up on running, age, gender, fitness level, experience, weight, prior injuries, and running stride can all influence the level of risk involved in injuries. Regardless, running does put overall stress on the body’s muscle and nervous system and any risk factor involved can increase the risk. (1)

While there is no clear-cut answer, the best method is to listen to your body and choose shoes that best accommodate your needs even if you need to try many different pairs to decide. As a marathon runner, I realize the stress it puts on my body, but I love it so much that I cannot give it up and I always try to choose shoes that best fits my needs.

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