Whether you’re a veteran marathon runner or a newbie at jogging, we’ve all experienced the daunting task of trying to find the perfect running shoe. The criteria are usually pretty standard: comfort, affordability and look. This seems pretty basic until you approach the running shoe display and have dozens of shoes staring back at you. In this blog, we’re going to discuss some of the recent research on running shoe design and injury prevention.
What are the Different Types of Shoes?
These are running shoes that mimic a barefoot running style. They are flexible, lightweight and have a low heel to toe drop. A low heel–toe drop simply means that there is less “shoe” between your heel and the ground. It has been shown that a low heel-toe drop encourages a mid-forefoot strike pattern, as opposed to a big chunky heel that encourages heel striking.
These are meant for the average foot that doesn’t over-pronate or supinate. They are cushioned and have support, but have very little correction for any biomechanical issues.
These are meant for people who have low arches and mildly pronate during running. There is medial and lateral support built into the shoe to help control the amount of pronation.
These are meant for people who have really flat feet and severely over-pronate. They provide a lot of biomechanical support to prevent the foot from falling in. You would not wear an orthotic with this type of shoe since it already is meant to correct foot alignment.
For years running shoe selection has been based on your foot shape and arches. For example, if you had flat feet and over-pronated, you would be given a motion-control shoe. Unfortunately, a recent Cochrane review by Relph et al., (2022) has shown there is little to no research to support this method of shoe selection. Furthermore, their review showed that motion-control and stability shoes don’t always control foot pronation or lower leg biomechanics, nor do they prevent injuries or lead to increased comfort. In addition, the amount of shoe cushioning and whether the midsole is “hard” or “soft” have no significant role in reducing running injuries.
If there is conflicting research supporting traditional running shoes, is barefoot the way to go? With the increased popularity in barefoot and minimalist running, a lot of research has emerged around the topic. So what does the research show in terms of traditional running shoes vs barefoot/minimalist shoes? Research has shown that running in minimalist shoes, has been linked to mid- and forefoot striking, lighter strides, and proper alignment of the lower body, which has in turn resulted in a higher cadence and decreased ground reaction force. HOWEVER, despite these claims, there is evidence that switching from traditional shoes to minimalist shoes can increase your risk for lower leg pain and injury, especially in heavier runners.
Traditional Running Shoes vs. Barefoot/Minimalist Shoes: Which One is Better for You?
If you are a runner, you already know the importance of choosing the right shoes for your performance and injury prevention. The debate between a traditional running shoe and a barefoot running shoe or minimalist shoe has been ongoing for years. While some runners swear by traditional shoes, others have switched to barefoot running shoes and never looked back. It’s best to weigh the pros and cons of each shoe before you decide which is best for you.
Pros of Traditional Running Shoes
Traditional running shoes are designed with a cushioned midsole and a raised heel. Although they aren’t always the most comfortable, they offer support, stability, and shock absorption, making them a popular choice among runners. These shoes are typically made with synthetic materials, such as mesh, foam, and rubber, and come in many styles and colors.
Pros of these shoes include:
- Cushioning: Traditional running shoes provide cushioning, which reduces the impact on the joints and prevents injury.
- Support: These shoes offer support to the feet and ankles, which is especially important for runners with flat feet or overpronation.
- Versatility: Traditional running shoes work best on a wide range of surfaces, including pavement, trails, and treadmills.
- Durability: These shoes are designed to last for several hundred miles of running before needing to be replaced.
The cons of these shoes are that the cushioning and support of traditional running shoes make them heavier than barefoot/minimalist shoes. The raised heel and thick midsole also limit the range of motion of the foot and ankle, which can affect running form and efficiency. Let’s not forget, they can also be quite costly.
Pros of Barefoot Running Shoes / Minimal Running Shoes
Barefoot or minimalist shoes are designed to simulate the feeling of running barefoot. They have little to no cushioning, a flat sole, and a wide-toe box. These shoes are typically made with lightweight materials, such as mesh and synthetic leather.
Pros of these shoes include:
- Improved running form: The flat sole and wide toe box of barefoot/minimalist shoes encourage a more natural running form, which can improve efficiency and reduce injury.
- Strengthening: Running in barefoot/minimalist shoes can strengthen the muscles in the feet and lower legs, which can improve overall running performance and reduce the risk of injury.
- Lightweight: These shoes are much lighter than traditional running shoes, which can improve running speed and agility.
- Affordable: These shoes are also generally less expensive than traditional running shoes.
Still unsure about what shoes to buy? There really isn’t one “perfect” shoe for every runner. If you’ve worn the same brand of shoes for years and they work well, then stick to what you know. If you want to try something new, you need to consider your biomechanics, body size, training volume, running surface and previous injuries. Many runners will have a few different pairs of shoes for trails, short distance, long distance, etc. If you want to learn more about running shoes and the prevention and treatment of running injuries, chat with one of the therapists at Sheddon. We also have a Pedorthist, Sarah Alger, who can help with orthotics and footwear.