By Dr. Tania Aloisio
It isn’t too long after you walk into a running shoe store that you might find yourself overwhelmed by the multiplicity of choices confronting you. Different shapes and colours, styles and functions – choice abounds. However, there is a bit of method to this madness. Running shoe design has evolved over time towards an emphasis on function and rightfully so. We ask a lot of our feet. We expect this highly developed and complex biomechanical structure to not only bear the weight of our bodies, but also forces many times the weight of our bodies. Countless hours of standing and walking, jogging or running take their toll. As such, we need to protect our feet from the wear and tear of everyday life. The right running shoes, chosen with an eye towards design, function, and fit, can do this important job.
Modern running shoes fall into three broad and distinct categories based on function: Motion Control, Cushion Trainers, and Stability Shoes. Motion control shoes are developed for lower arched runners and are designed to control over-pronation (or a fallen arch) and its associated injuries. Cushion trainers, on the other hand, will help to decrease the stress and strain on the legs that can come from having higher arches (supinators) and a generally more rigid foot. Finally, stability shoes are designed to provide both cushioning and control to runners with relatively normal arches and foot structure.
Finding out what sort of running shoe you need means first figuring out what kind of foot type you have. To determine your arch type you can do something called a Wet Test. Take a shallow pan and fill it with water, then place your foot in it. Take your foot and step on a paper shopping bag, thick towel, or your patio/deck and examine the print you leave behind. If you leave a print that only features the ball and heel of your foot and a thin to non-existent line along the outside of your foot, then you probably have high arches. If you see a wet blob that looks like the entire imprint of your foot, it is more likely that you have low arched feet.
Knowing our arch type, we can better understand how and why the appropriate shoe selection is so critical to injury prevention.
Let’s consider the low-arched runner who is a victim of over-pronation or excessive foot mobility during walking and running. While a certain degree of mobility in the foot is necessary to disperse the shock from impacting the ground, low-arched individuals, exhibit too much mobility. This allows for excess forces to be transmitted to other joints and structures of the foot and leg. To exaggerate this concept of a reverberating force, think of how your body would respond to running on a trampoline. Common injuries seen in low arched runners are calf pain (posterior shin splints), medial (inside) knee pain, and arch and heel pain (plantar fasciitis and/or heel spurs). Motion control shoes, as the name implies, are expected to help control the over pronation making the foot more rigid for better biomechanics and force absorption, thereby reducing the risk of injury.
On the other hand, high arched runners, or supinators, have a foot that is too rigid and will not absorb shock well. This extreme rigidity ultimately causes significant impact shock to the foot and other structures of the leg. Imagine what it would feel like to run in steel shank shoes on a track made of steel…ouch! Common injuries seen in high arched runners are things like calf pain (anterior shin splints), tibial stress fractures, Achilles tendonosis, and recurrent ankle sprains. Cushion trainers are designed with added cushioning to help decrease the forces the foot encounters when hitting the ground.
We cannot forget that some of us need the extra help provided by orthotics. These customized shoe inserts may be designed to provide extra support and motion control for over-pronators, or extra cushioning for supinators.
We also should remember that injuries elsewhere in our bodies may have their roots in our feet. Similarly, those nagging foot injuries may have their cause higher up in our bodies, such as the low back or pelvis.
At the end of the day keep in mind that even the best running shoes are only one piece of the puzzle. Always remember to warm-up before any activity, stay hydrated, and thoroughly stretch afterwards. It is important to see your chiropractor to make sure your back is properly aligned before starting any physical activity to prevent aches or pains from developing.
Now get going and enjoy your run!