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runner going up hill injury free

How important are our running trainers in helping to reduce injury?

Blog written by Jason Dodd, Clinic Manager and Lead Sports Massage Therapist at Bodylogics The Sports Therapy Clinic.

As a keen runner myself I often get asked for advice on what running trainers someone should wear if they are experiencing pain whilst taking part in activity and how do they reduce running related injuries. Many runners and athletes believe that their choice of running shoes is important in helping to reduce injury, in fact, as many as 73% of cross country runners in one study believed that their shoe choice should be dependent upon the type of arch they have on their foot see here . This same study also highlighted that 53% of these people did not know what their arch type was! The question here is ‘well how important is it??’……. The answer….. Not that much!!

There have been various studies over the years which have tried to test the importance of shoe type and none have ever come back with any conclusive evidence. This paper here took over 2500 people and split them into two groups with one random group having shoes made to match their arch type and the other wearing a standard stability controlling shoe that was not matched to their arch type. The results showed no difference in the injury rate and there was no data to show any trends of what was more beneficial.

How important are our running trainers in helping to reduce injury? Bodylogics

Examples of running shoes in 1912, the Spalding running shoes (left) and modern running shoes in 2014 (right)

Further studies like this here show that shoes selected based on the shape of the foot had little or no influence on injury risk. This is further supported by the article here which looked at over 1000 marine corporals in the USA and found no link between rate of injury and choice of footwear, nor did the study here which looked at over 900 participants.

Given all these studies, runners still believe that their choice of running shoe is a leading cause of running related injury. That is supported by this research paper here.  

Why is this though? Why are beliefs about this type of product so ingrained in our minds? The answer is simply media/marketing and also how we are educated. We are told constantly by the leading global brands that their shoe will make you go faster or that their shoe is designed specifically for your type of foot style. But, when have you ever been shown the research that supports this? Why do we trust these multi-billion pound companies? Take a step back right now and ask yourself ‘why did i buy these trainers?’. If your answer is for comfort then you have made a good choice. If it is because you were told ‘these are the right shoes for you’ then maybe re-consider your choice next time. On the other hand, if they are comfortable then there is no need to change!

When I propose this to clients, that their trainer choice is of little importance and they should focus on other things, I am often asked ‘well what should they be?’. I have put together a list of points as to what I believe are the main priorities for reducing the chances of injury;

  1. Managing your training programme. It goes without saying, if you do too much too soon then you run the risk of injuring yourself.
  2. Undertaking a thorough and complete strength training programme. You cannot go wrong with getting strong. A robust and strong body is able to split loads placed on it much more evenly therefore reducing chances of injury.
  3. Change your gait pattern. This refers to how big your stride is. By changing this you change the way forces travel through your body and therefore how load is applied to the body too.
  4. CHOICE OF FOOTWEAR. This fits in on the list here but it is very low down for a reason. The reason being is that it does not make enough difference for it to be a major concern!

I advise runners that shoe choice should be based on comfort and this is supported by the study below where we have taken a caption to show you the evidence;

The study of Muendermann et al.29 contains information that seems important for the understanding of injury aetiology. They provided six different insoles (different with respect to arch, heel shape, material and elasticity) to a test group of 106 soldiers and asked them to assess the insoles with respect to comfort. After this assessment, the members of the test group received their most comfortable insole and used it for the next 4 months. Injury frequencies were determined for the test group (n=106) and a control group (n=106) both exposed to the same military training. There were two very important results from this study:

From the six different insoles, five were selected as the most preferred (most comfortable) insole with about the same frequency. The test group had 53% fewer lower-extremity injuries than the control group.

The only selection criterion for the insoles was the individual comfort. Thus it seems that comfort of insoles is an important factor for injuries. We propose that comfort is important for all movement-related injuries to the lower extremities.

To Summarise; Footwear choice is important, running shoes have a ‘lifespan’ but that is dependent a lot on the bio mechanics of your whole body as opposed to just your feet, so changing these depends on many factors. However, the take home point here is that shoe choice in running should not be priority number 1 when it comes to avoiding running related injuries. It is important that we are educated in the REAL reasons why we get injured and ensure we take the correct preventative measures to minimise these risks, and that starts with the points listed above.

To help with the summary of this blog, we are have embedded an excellent podcast here from the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The speakers here discuss the relevance of shoe choice in running related injury and also whether running shoes are actually that important in making a difference to your running.

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