Choosing the Right Running Shoes: 3 Tips to Help you Prevent Injury
In one of my first jobs in a local sports equipment shop, my eyes were opened to the world of running shoes and a huge interest began. However, I can’t recall studying Gait Analysis in enough detail during my college years to equip me with the knowledge needed to advise on choosing the right running shoes. But this didn’t matter as I was quickly given two pieces of advice:
- Regardless of what shoe they ask you for, bring out the more expensive version also. They won’t leave them behind once they compare both pairs.
- If the foot rolls in when looking at them from behind, they need a stability/motion control shoe.
As naïve as I was, I bought into the above and thought I was doing a great job. Until, one particular person returned three times in two weeks with a hole up through the top of the shoe, just above the big toe. And they weren’t the only ones, as this became a frequent occurrence in the twelve months I worked there.
Fast forward six years to now, where I currently ply my trade analyzing Gait and biomechanics. My knowledge is by no means at an expert level, however, I would like to think my advice would be more informed than it originally was. In this blog, therefore, I’m going to discuss choosing the right pair of running shoes to help you prevent injury.
Lower limb injuries are extremely common among runners with up to 85 percent of runners experiencing these injuries annually (Araujo et al., 2015). Some of the most common injuries include Achilles tendinopathy, medial tibial stress syndrome, and patellofemoral pain (Francis et al., 2019).
In earlier years it was thought that foot posture was one factor that contributed to lower limb injuries, however, more recently this has been proven to not be true in some studies (Hespanhol et al., 2016). It is now widely thought that we need to consider various factors, as kinematics may be associated with lower limb injuries but only in certain cohorts (Vannatta, Heinert, and Kernozek, 2020).
Manufacturers of running shoes have been developing running shoes for the last number of decades for the following purposes:
- To correct a defective foot posture by including a motion control or stability aspect.
- To reduce the amount of large impact force, in particular vertical ground reaction force.
- To provide a performance benefit.
The first two points both aim to reduce lower limb injuries in runners. Motion-control running shoes are commonly prescribed for runners with severely pronated feet to pronated feet while stability shoes are recommended for runners with neutral to pronated feet. Neutral running shoes are recommended for those with neutral to supinated feet.
This strategy, which has been used for many years, is still commonly practiced in shops by sales assistants just like me a number of years ago, and among athletes when choosing the right running shoes. Various studies over many years began to conclude that this practice was not scientifically supported, however, which led to an epidemiological study with over 900 participants. This study concluded that there was no significant difference between those wearing motion control, stability, or neutral running shoes when it came to decreasing running-related injuries (Nielsen et al., 2014).
Novice runners should be advised that other risk factors such as BMI, sex, age, and previous non-running related injuries may be more important than foot posture when it comes to injuries.
Choosing the right running shoes
There are numerous considerations when choosing the right running shoes; your budget, the distance you intend on running, your previous injuries, the ground you intend on running on, the colour (yes this is important to most people), and although it has been mostly unproven for the majority, foot posture at the extreme ends is still important.
#1 Gait Assessment
I would firstly advise getting your Gait assessed. Some sports shops will do this for you, especially those specializing in running shoes, however, keep in mind what I said at the start. The salesperson is a salesperson and their job is to sell you shoes. There are several shops and private Gait clinics that have some very experienced staff, so ask some running friends and they may be able to advise you.
Most people are aware if they have flat feet or not. This is where it gets tricky as flat feet, over-pronation, and rearfoot eversion are three different things but are often categorized as being the same. That is why in the research highlighted above, it claims that foot posture may not be the most important thing when it comes to running-related injuries.
If your foot posture is extremely everted or over-pronated, you would most likely benefit from having some support. If the person who assesses your gait is experienced, they will know exactly what you need.
When it comes to budget, in my own experience, spending upwards of €130 (RRP) is necessary to get a decent running shoe. However, there are shoes in the €100-130 range that will suffice for novice runners who are doing low mileage. There is a huge difference in comfort when you go up in price and even if you are new to running, it doesn’t mean you can’t buy a top-end running shoe.
#3 Heel Drop
Finally, there’s one key consideration that I think most people won’t know about, and often the sales assistant won’t know this either. The heel drop/heel offset is a really important consideration when choosing the right running shoes. This is basically the difference in height your heel is from the ground, compared to your forefoot. This is not to be mistaken with the cushion on the shoe.
For example, Hoka Clifton running shoes have lots of cushion, but often they only have a 5mm heel drop. Whereas a New Balance 880 running shoes have a 10mm heel drop. Take a look at Figure 2 below and see if you can spot the difference.
The shoe with the higher heel drop is much more advantageous for those with poor ankle mobility, or those with a previous history of injury around the lower leg region.
To conclude, I will leave three of the main pieces of advice I can give when choosing the right running shoes:
- Have your Gait assessed by a professional or person with experience selling running shoes.
- Don’t be afraid to invest in a good pair of running shoes. An extra €20-30 could mean lower physio costs in the future.
- Make sure they feel comfortable in the shop. If you don’t feel right walking around with them on in the shop, you won’t be comfortable running in them.
Just because you have been told that you have a foot posture of X and therefore you need a specific type of running shoe, keep in mind that your foot is completely different from the next person who walks into that shop and is sold the same pair of shoes. In years to come, running shoes will be 3D printed to fit exactly right for you, but until then, shop around and wear what’s comfortable.
- Araujo, M.K.D., Baeza, R.M., Zalada, S.R.B., Alves, P.B.R. and Mattos, C.A.D., 2015. Injuries among amateur runners. Revista brasileira de ortopedia, 50, pp.537-540.
- Francis, P., Whatman, C., Sheerin, K., Hume, P., and Johnson, M.I., 2019. The proportion of lower limb running injuries by gender, anatomical location and specific pathology: a systematic review. Journal of sports science & medicine, 18(1), p.21.
- Hespanhol Junior, L.C., De Carvalho, A.C.A., Costa, L.O.P. and Lopes, A.D., 2016. Lower limb alignment characteristics are not associated with running injuries in runners: Prospective cohort study. European Journal of Sport Science, 16(8), pp.1137-1144.
- Vannatta, C.N., Heinert, B.L. and Kernozek, T.W., 2020. Biomechanical risk factors for running-related injury differ by sample population: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical biomechanics, 75, p.104991.
- Nielsen, R.O., Buist, I., Parner, E.T., Nohr, E.A., Sørensen, H., Lind, M. and Rasmussen, S., 2014. Foot pronation is not associated with increased injury risk in novice runners wearing a neutral shoe: a 1-year prospective cohort study. British journal of sports medicine, 48(6), pp.440-447.
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About the author
Shane Hassett has an MSc in Sports Performance and a BSc in Sports Science. He works in a private biomechanics clinic that analyzes human movement, including the 3D movement of the spine, pelvis, and pressure plates to assess foot function. Shane is currently the Head S&C and Sport Scientist with Clare Senior Hurling which also includes a coaching element. He was previously involved with the University of Limerick GAA club as a coach/selector on the Fresher hurling and Fitzgibbon hurling teams over a span of 7 years. Shane currently plays hurling and Gaelic football at club level, as well as resistance training at least three times a week. He previously ran two full marathons and many more shorter distance events.
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