runners black and white

Running Their Mouths on Shoe Safety


It’s a new year, and for many people that means making New Year’s resolutions. One of the most common is a promise to get more exercise after one too many holiday treats. A pair of shiny new running shoes might even provide extra motivation.

But with so many options on the market, which type of shoe should runners be choosing to maximize runs and avoid injury? Motion control? Stability enhancing? Extra cushioning? Or even barefoot?

According to physiotherapist Chris Napier from the University of British Columbia, there is no good evidence to show that shoe design makes any difference when it comes to preventing injuries. Yet, running shoes are big business.

For the past 40 years running shoes been recommended by matching shoe features to foot structure and running style. Shoes are ‘prescribed’ on the basis of impact (which part of the foot hits the ground first) and pronation (the natural rolling of the foot) in an effort to prevent running-related injuries. However, shoes designed to reduce impact and pronation have not led to a decline of running-related injuries.

“We were growing concerned [about] some of the claims that were being made on social media and in research circles, being made by health professionals especially, and researchers, that certain running shoes could prevent injuries,” Napier told CBC News.

To get to the bottom of the conflicting advice surrounding running shoes, Napier and co-author Richard Willy from the University of Montana, reviewed the limited number of high quality randomized control trials, observational cohort studies, and systematic reviews on running shoes and injury prevention.

Their conclusion? Choosing a certain type of running shoe over another for its design provides no more safety than choosing a blue shoe over a red shoe.

Their review also calls out a logical, but unfounded, assumption that minimalist shoes are superior because they promote a ‘more natural’ foot motion. Although a lighter shoe can improve running economy, as a runner would be carrying less weight, the researchers highlight that there is no evidence to support a ‘more natural’ foot motion as an effective way of preventing injury.

Instead of worrying about footwear, Napier and Willy encourage recreational runners to focus on other factors to improve their running and avoid injury — factors such as running form, strength, training load, and recovery.

But if you do want to treat yourself to some new runners, Napier’s advice is simple, “I tell people that comfort is probably the most important thing. A comfortable shoe is something you will get out and run in.”

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Amy Noise is a science communicator who is fascinated by how and why the world works. Always learning, she is passionate about science and sharing it with the world to improve and protect our health, society and environment. Amy earned her BSc (biology and science communication) at the University of Manchester, and MSc (nutrition science and policy) at King’s College London, UK. She tweets sporadically @any_noise