Can a shoe help prevent injury?
Yes, shoes can reduce injury risk, because they can alter your form and how the repetitive forces of running are applied to your body. For example, research shows that the firmness of shoe cushioning can influence the stiffness of your legs (i.e. amount of bend at the ankle, knee, and hip), which affects how forces impact your muscles, bones, and joints.
If you’re in a shoe that applies forces in a way that your body can manage and is a good match for your training (road or trail, for instance), the shoe can help reduce injury risk. Try rotating between a few pairs: a trainer for long runs, grippy shoes for trails, flats for speedwork, and minimal shoes for form drills. The variety mixes up how force is applied and may reduce stress in the legs and feet.
– Peter Larson, PhD, associate professor of biology, co-author of Tread Lightly: Form, Footwear, and the Quest for Injury-Free Running, and author of runblogger.com
How do I know if I’m in the right shoe?
You want a shoe that fits your biomechanics. Speciality-running-shoe shop assessments are helpful, but not foolproof. My best advice is to go by comfort. If it doesn’t feel good, it means it’s putting stress somewhere you don’t want it to. If you have aches and pains after you’ve run in a pair of shoes, it might be a sign you’re in the wrong ones. If your shoe does feel good, it’s probably a good one for you.
– Dr Benno Nigg, human performance laboratory staff member and author of Biomechanics of Sports Shoes
How can a shoe specialist help me find the right pair?
Our job is to find the shoe that best complements your foot shape and biomechanics. If we do that, we can minimise a shoe’s role in the injury equation.
Expect staff to ask about your training, look for wear patterns on your old shoes, examine and measure your bare feet, and watch you run in a few pairs. (If this doesn’t happen, I’d go elsewhere.) When a shoe feels great and allows for neutral pronation – not too much or too little movement – it’s probably a winner.
– JD Denton, co-owner of a specialist shoe shop, and a 30-year veteran in the running industry
Should I switch to a minimal model for injury prevention?
There is no compelling evidence that says a minimal shoe will reduce injury. Some runners have switched and have had positive, transformative experiences. Others have been hurt and disappointed. Runners with smaller, leaner bodies, midfoot- and forefoot-strikers, and those with little or no injury history are most likely to make the switch without problems. Plus-sized runners, extreme heel-strikers, and anyone with chronic injury issues will take longer to adapt, and may find that their more substantial, conventional shoes work better for them.
– Martyn R Shorten, PhD, director of the Runner’s World Shoe Lab in the US
I bought minimal shoes. Now what?
Transition gradually. Spend the first week just walking in them.
The following week you can start running in your new shoes – but wear them at most every other day for the first two to three weeks, and only do a kilometre or three in them.
Whatever amount of running you start in your new shoes, hold at that level for at least a week. Then increase only by whatever your original amount was. Gradually introduce them to harder workouts.
– Scott Douglas, author of The Complete Guide to Minimalism and Barefoot Running
Do orthotics work?
There has been surprisingly little research linking orthotics – a shoe insert that alters or controls motion – to injury prevention. But for people with excessive pronation or flat arches, inserts can help.
Studies show that an over-the-counter orthotic can be just as effective as a custom-made one, so try those first. If you still have pain, see a physical therapist who specialises in running.
– Reed Ferber, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology, University of Calgary