The most common question I get in my office is, “What running shoe should I buy?”
It’s a simple question, with a not-so-simple answer.
So many choices — and so many different types of feet. Where do you start?
There are three basic types of running shoes. In order of increasing stiffness and support, there are neutral-cushioned shoes, stability shoes and motion-control shoes.
Neutral-cushioned shoes are usually lightweight and flexible. They provide very little added support to the foot. They are typically recommended for runners with high, stiff arches.
Stability shoes have a moderate amount of arch support and are usually a bit heavier. They are a good choice for the average runner.
Lastly, motion-control shoes are extremely stiff and provide a lot of arch support. They are usually quite heavy and “clunky.”
Running shoes are built with different levels of arch support to control overpronation of the foot. Foot pronation is simply the collapsing of the inside of the foot (the arch) as the foot hits the ground.
Pronation is a normal process — to a point. However, if the foot pronates excessively (”overpronates”) it puts a huge amount of added stress on the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the foot, ankle and leg. People with flatter feet tend to overpronate more than people with normal arch height.
Historically, running experts and shoe manufacturers recommended that people who overpronate buy a motion-control sneaker. And people with high arches should be running in a neutral-cushioned sneaker. Unfortunately, a number of recent studies seem to dispute those recommendations.
One study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2010 looked at the three main categories of running footwear — neutral, stability and motion control — and found that prescribing shoes based on foot type was an oversimplification.
A 2013 study in the same publication showed that runners who were categorized as overpronators were not any more likely to get injured when they wore a neutral-cushioned shoe than a stability shoe. Since those who overpronate are generally steered away from neutral shoes, this was the opposite of what they expected to find.
We’ve always been taught not to use our mind-body connection in choosing the shoes we wear for running. Instead, we’re supposed to pick shoes based on our foot structure and gait mechanics. However, recent research has shown that we may be better off trusting what our brain is instinctively telling us as we try on new shoes in the store.
Numerous studies have shown that runners who choose sneakers based entirely on comfort get injured less often and are more economical than runners who choose sneakers based on foot-type.
Your body is smart. When it feels exhausted, it is exhausted. When it makes you thirsty, you need water. And when it tells you that one pair of running shoes is more comfortable than another, it’s because the more comfortable pair fits better and allows you to run more efficiently and with lower injury risk. Yes, your body is that smart.
I know, I know. Enough with the research. Get on with the recommendations. Based on the current literature, I have two general recommendations when buying running shoes.
If you have been running for a while, and have no history of injuries, please just keep running in the same shoes that you’ve been using. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
However, if you have a history of injuries, or you’re a new runner, you will most likely do best with a middle-of-the-road stability shoe that feels best on your feet. Nothing too lightweight — and nothing too bulky.
Go to your local running store and ask to try on a few different models of a stability running shoe. Make sure you try on at least four to five different shoes from a variety of companies. Wear each pair around the store for a few minutes. If possible, jog in them a bit.
Then, buy the pair that feels the best on your feet.
Dr. Jonathan Mulholland is a sports chiropractor, running analyst and strength coach at Ideal Athlete Chiropractic, 42 U.S. Oval, Plattsburgh. Contact him at 324-5000 or www.TheIdealAthlete.com.