Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff of Running Shoes & Orthotics [Part 1 of 2]
by Mr Tye Lee Tze, Registered Podiatrist, The Podiatry Centre Pte Ltd
Information is readily available at our fingertips 24hrs a day. Along with this accessibility discernment can be lacking. Readers may not pay attention to the credibility of the source and the information propagated “becomes” fact just because it appears on many platforms of unvetted media (social or otherwise). The following are some of the more common misconceptions circulating about running shoes and orthotics. For practicality, the following shall be in a question & answer format.
Q: Is there one best brand of shoe?
A: It’s not so much the brand of the shoe but whether the shoe suits your activity, foot function, and fit. To use an analogy – think about cars. Is a Ferrari a good brand? Of course it is, however if you want to use the car to drive off road then would you want to have a Ferrari or a 4-Wheel Drive of a less well known brand. Similarly the shoe must firstly suit your activity (running shoes for either running or walking. Not tennis or casual shoes for running). Then the shoes should suit your foot function (neutral, overpronator), then the shoe must fit the shape of your foot eg. if you have a wider foot then the cut of New Balance may suit your foot better. Everyone’s different. Thus a shoe which may suit one person may not suit everyone; like the tennis racquet Serena Williams uses may not suit every female tennis player.
Q: But doesn’t Brand A make technical running shoes and the other brands don’t?
A: That’s like saying Mercedes is the only car brand that make luxury sedans. They themselves may imply so but implying so doesn’t necessarily make it so. All major shoe brands make different categories of running shoes just like all the major car manufacturers make different types of cars.
Q: When looking for a running shoe isn’t lighter the better?
A: The weight or lack thereof may be one of the considerations in choosing a shoe but it certainly is not the only consideration. There are other important considerations such as function and fit. If your foot is mechanically unstable then a lighter shoe may cause more problems. This is because a more stable shoe needs to be heavier. There’s always a trade off – the lighter the shoe the less stable it may be. So it really depends on what your foot requires. Different feet have different requirements. Again, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.
Q: You keep talking about function. How do I know how my foot functions? Is it really as simple as flat feet = severe overpronator, high arched feet = underpronator (actually there is no such word).
A: Firstly – no it is not as simple as that. Flat Feet or High Arched Feet are the description of the shape of the foot and overpronation or oversupination (not underpronation) are the movements of the foot. It is a gross generalisation to say all flat feet overpronate and all high arched feet oversupinate.
The most accurate way to determine the function of your foot is to visit either a Podiatrist (especially one who has experience in high performance sports), or a Sports Doctor, or a Sports Physiotherapist. Whilst most people may be reluctant to pay for a consultation just to determine how their foot functions but for those who are more serious or performance runners it is better not to be “penny wise pound foolish” as using the wrong type of shoe can lead to injuries (short and long term) and / or pain. I always liken a runners shoes their most important piece of their sporting equipment. Like a tennis player using the wrong tennis racquet or a golfer using the wrong type of golf clubs this could cause pain or injuries. The objective of sporting equipment is to maximise the athlete’s strengths and to minimise their weaknesses. I’ve seen many a patient waste money on the wrong type of shoes (which can be more expensive than a professional consultation). It is not just the money that one has to consider but also the possibility of pain and injury which could sideline the runner and cause them to miss the event they’ve been training so hard for.
Q: When should I change my running shoes?
A: Every 500 – 700kms or 1 year (whichever comes first). 1 year is even if you have never used the shoes. This is because the material in the midsole of the shoe deteriorates. The rate of deterioration is faster in a humid climate such as Singapore.
Also if the shoe is deformed – like in the photo below. Again, trying to save money when new shoes are due are “penny wise pound foolish” and can result in pain and injury.
Q: What are the basic key characteristics of a suitable running shoe?
A: The shoe must have
i) Firm Heel Counter – to give stability to the foot at heel strike.
ii) Laces are still the best – It allows to vary the fit of the shoe.
iii) Wide & Deep Toebox – too narrow can cause calluses or blisters, too shallow and it can cause subungual haematoma’s (painful blackened toenails)
iv) Midsoles are still the best. Recognised studies suggest running shoes with traditional midsoles over barefoot / minimalistic shoes.
Significant higher leg stiffness during stance phase was found in barefoot. Stride frequency, anterior-posterior impulse, vertical stiffness, leg stiffness & mechanical work were significantly higher in barefoot. For nearly the same Oxygen consumption, barefoot runners produce more mechanical work.” 1
Barefoot runners used almost 4% more energy in each step than running in shoes.” 2
v) Durable outsole.
- Divert et al. Int’l Journal of Sports Medicine 2008;29:512-519
- Kuran et al. Journal of Med Sci Sports & Exercise
We hope you have enjoyed the article! This is the first of our two-part series on Running Shoes and Orthotics. Be sure to check back for the second part on Orthotics next week!