Thursday 25 July 2013

Are the expensive trainers worth it?

People spend a fortune on running shoes. The choice is endless, confusing and the technology is absurd. We are cleverly marketed these highly engineered products with the promise of increased performance and reduced risk of injury. And yet athletes and would be athletes are still getting as many injuries as before, if not more. So what should you buy? The most expensive? The cheapest? Or should you just run barefoot?

The ‘experts/manufacturers’ would suggest that by changing ‘impact force’ of foot on the ground, or modifying the contact with the ground, it will reduce your likelihood of injury. There is a tendency to throw around words like pronation or supination as if these were just built-in defects that could be improved with the correct shoe.

As a therapist I’d rather work out the reason for the pronation or supination and correct that. I also believe that your foot, like the rest of you, should be strong enough to do its job - and that nothing is as good to move on as the foot. I like to look for the reason for the poor contact, and the reason for the contact stresses, and correct those. Build a body that can run, rather than support a weakness.

It is oversimplifying the issue to assume that a shoe can correct your gait. You are more individual than that, and there is a wide range of intrinsic risk factors - basically dependent upon how you are put together, what you do every day and have been doing with yourself for your life so far - that impact on your proprioception and the balance of your muscles which makes you too unique for this model. Messing around with one biomechanical factor will impact on all the other structures in the body. There is no way to be sure that what you think your high tech shoe is achieving for you is in fact what you as an individual need for your training programme, gait, biomechanics and injury history.

There is research to indicate that wearing shoes that attempt to correct pronation or provide cushioning may result in a greater prevalence of injury (Warburton, 2001).

Warburton concludes that running in shoes:
  1. can increase risk of ankle sprains by decreasing awareness of foot position and amplify twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble
  2. can increase risk of plantar fasciitis and other chronic injuries of the lower limb by modifying the transfer of shock to muscles and supporting structures
If today’s fancy shoes are so good and the high tech is so necessary, then how come the generation of runners before us did not get injured more often? Remember the lovely light feeling of old school gym shoes? Similar styles are currently fashionable and are possibly one of the healthiest shoe fashions yet. The thinner sole allows input about the ground below. Your foot is designed to receive input. It‘s a brilliant piece of engineering that we bind and blind when we stick it into a pair of high tech trainers or fashion shoes.