As any runner will know, there are few things worse than being injured. The pain of a strain, shin splints, or muscle tear tends to affect us psychologically as much as it does physically.
So, when someone creates a shoe that they say will prevent injury, we’re going to sit up and listen.
Back in 2009, the book Born To Run had runners everywhere believing that the only way to prevent injury was to run barefoot – or, at least, in minimalist shoes.
A few years later, Hoka One One turned that concept on its head by introducing the antithesis: a maximalist, super-cushioned trainer that too, claimed to prevent injury.
The cushioned trainer seemed to have a solid argument. It made sense that extra support would cradle a runners’ feet and, ultimately, protect joints and tendons from running-related woe.
Unfortunately, the research suggests otherwise. In fact, these super-sized shoes may actually cause runners to absorb more force from the ground than in regular shoes.
In a 2018 study published in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers compared the bio-mechanics of runners in maximal trainers and neutral shoes. They found that when the runners wore the maximalist shoes, they experienced greater impact forces and loading rate than in the neutral shoe.
In short, it appeared that the shoes were increasing the risk of injury – not minimising it.
Runners who are new to running in a maximal shoe may be at an increased risk of injury.
A similar study in 2014 from the Sports Medicine Research Laboratory in Luxembourg found no difference in injury rates between runners in cushioned trainers and non-cushioned. Here, researchers compared injury rates in runners who wore a mid-sole which was 15 percent harder than the other. This particular brand of shoe claimed that its “shock-absorbing qualities” would reduce the repetitive impact forces associated with “micro-trauma and overuse injuries”.
However, the midsole hardness of the cushioned running shoes appeared to do nothing to reduce running-related injuries. And the softer midsoles also didn’t provide any benefit to heavier runners.
The same research group then wondered if perhaps the key was transitioning into the shoes. So, they tested the cushy trainers again over a six-week acclimation period.
Still, no luck: even six weeks of gentle transition made no difference to a runner’s risk of injury. On the contrary, the greater loading rates and impact forces of maximal shoes – along with eversion mechanics – could actually increase the risk.
Kinesiology experts have suggested that rather than protecting us from the ground, those big cushy shoes can wind up changing crucial aspects of biomechanics. The stacked sole can affect a runner’s balance and ankle movement, while all that extra foam can prevent sensory information about the ground.
So, how does an injury-prone runner choose the right shoes?
It’s all about gait.
Yes, a shoe should account for the stress on your bones, muscles and joints – but, before that, it should be matched to your unique gait and running form.
Every runner’s stride is a complex interaction of foot, ankle, knee, hip, and upper body motion. Reducing sports injury risk involves understanding how you run. And the best way to figure this out is with a gait analysis from a qualified practitioner.
- Influence of Maximal Running Shoes on Biomechanics Before and After a 5K Run
Christine D. Pollard, Justin A. Ter Har, J.J. Hannigan, Marc F. Norcross
Orthop J Sports Med. 2018 Jun; 6(6): 2325967118775720. Published online 2018 Jun 7
- Influence of midsole hardness of standard cushioned shoes on running-related injury risk. Theisen D, Malisoux L, Genin J, et al. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2014;48:371-376.
- A 6-Week Transition to Maximal Running Shoes Does Not Change Running Biomechanics. J.J. Hannigan PhD, ATC, CSCS*, Christine D. Pollard, PhD, PT. First Published March 14, 2019
- Despite transition period, maximal running shoes may still lead to increased risk of injury.STORY BY: Michelle Klampe