We recently wrote an article which outlined the main causes of running injuries, namely increasing training load too quickly. You may have noticed that shoes were low down on the list of factors. Although it’s true that shoe selection has a smaller impact on injury rates, it is still important to select the right shoe both for comfort and performance.
We see people asking all the time, which is the best shoe for x or we have customers come in looking for a shoe they have seen recommended online. How often are elite runners and YouTubers touting the performance benefits of the latest shoe or we read articles listing the top 10 running shoes of the year.
With 100’s of brands and 1000’s of models available to us and plenty of conflicting opinions, it can be overwhelming. We appreciate that it’s very appealing to have someone just tell us what to buy. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. The reason for that is we are all individuals and our feet are unique. A shoe which feels comfortable on one runners foot or assists another with their injury, might not have the same effect on you. In fact, chances are that it won’t.
So to help guide you with your shoe selection, I’ll outline how we engage with every customer who comes by the store looking for a new shoe.
Firstly, how do you know if you need a new pair of shoes? The lifespan of a running shoe varies. Manufacturers will say between 300-500 miles. Where on this scale your shoes land will depend on your weight, height, gait, running surface, frequency of use, how they are cared for, etc. We recommend tracking your shoe mileage on Strava or a similar app. When the shoe is coming to the end of its life it will tend to feel a bit ‘dead’ or firm during a run. You might notice some niggles start creeping in (knee, hip and ankle pain is common) or additional aches post-run. Blisters or brush burn can start occurring and the tread can start to wear out, especially on trail shoes, meaning that slipping is more common.
So if any of this resonates, your shoes might be on their way out. If you decide to come in for some new ones, please bring your old shoes, any orthotics you have and some comfortable clothing in case you want to use the treadmill. Unless you know exactly what you want, it can take a little while to find the right shoe so allow some time for this process.
The next question is, are you injured? If so, then we would suggest that, if you haven’t already, you book an appointment with a qualified specialist to receive a diagnosis and treatment programme. If you’ve done this and have been recommended a particular brand and model of shoe, then we will pursue this avenue and see if the shoe both feels comfortable walking around and on the treadmill. If you haven’t been to see a professional, then we absolutely can’t diagnose your injury, but we can try and help find the best shoe for you. This will usually entail trying a variety of different models on the treadmill and getting feedback from yourself on how they feel and whether the pain is any different.
The link between injuries and running shoes is mixed. Despite huge advances in running shoe technology, runners are still getting injured at similar rates to the 1970’s. The evidence for selecting certain shoes for specific injuries is also limited and individual responses to shoe types vary greatly. That being said, choosing a shoe in order to move load to a different part of the body can help in some situations but we have to stipulate that there is some trial and error in this process. Anyone who tells you that they can solve an injury by prescribing a certain shoe is either uninformed on the latest research or trying to sell you something. This article and video from Tom Goom, ‘The Running Physio’, might be useful if you are suffering from an injury and want to try changing your shoe.
There is some strong evidence that owning several pairs of running shoes and rotating their use can actually reduce injuries by up to 40%. This could be because by changing the forces on your body each time you run by changing your shoes might allow stressed tissues an opportunity to rest and recover before being loaded again. Wearing different styles of shoe (those with different drops for example) might stress and strengthen different muscles in your feet and legs also, making them more resilient to repeated loading. Rotating shoes can also lengthen the lifespan of shoes by allowing foams time to recover and decompress between runs.
Just a quick mention on pronation. Pronation is simply the rolling in of our foot when it impacts the ground. Our feet do this to absorb and distribute load upon landing and is entirely natural. The amount of pronation varies from individual to individual. When the foot rolls in a lot this has been historically called ‘over-pronation’ and if it rolls out a lot, this has been called ‘over-supination’ or ‘under-pronation’. Over-pronation and over-supination have in the past been said to cause certain injuries and as such, the solution would be to wear a stability or motion-control shoe to limit this biomechanical ‘issue’. New research however has proven that the link between pronation and injury is mixed and often contradictory, Additionally, it seems that some runners will benefit from wearing stability/motion-control shoes whilst others don’t. These types of shoes can even cause other issues by shifting load to different parts of the body. So our advice is, if you do pronate or supinate a lot (which is subjective in itself) but you aren’t experiencing any pain, then you probably don’t need a stability shoe, unless you happen to find them comfy. If you do have pain associated with pronation, seek out a professional for advice and we can also experiment with shoes which have stability or motion-control features in them and see if they help. This video from Tom Goom again might be helpful.
So, if you’re not injured or in any pain, how should you select a shoe? We’ll start by narrowing down your choices by ascertaining what terrain you’re running on, what distances you’re running, how long you’ve been running, whether you’re training or racing and what shoe you have historically run in. The body doesn’t like big changes so we recommend choosing a shoe which isn’t too different to what you’re used to running in, unless we have a specific reason to do so. For example, if you want to switch to a more minimal shoe with a lower drop, do so gradually so that the musculoskeletal system has time to adapt. Drop, cushioning, weight, stability, rigidity, responsiveness, arch support, breathability and other myriad factors all play a role in what shoe will work for you but don’t worry, we can help talk you through these.
So, once we have selected a range of shoes to try, there are certain features to be aware of when you first put on a shoe:
Length: there should be a half to full thumbnail gap between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Less than this can cause blisters and black toenails. No one wants that.
Width: the shoe should be wide enough so that your toes can wiggle around (this will improve stability upon landing and reduce the likelihood of blisters). Your mid-foot should feel snug but not tight or pinching.
Heel lock: your heel shouldn’t be slipping out the back of the shoe. You want it to feel snug and supported. Trying different lacing patterns, like heel-locking, can help with this.
Stability: when standing and walking, you should feel stable in the shoe and not wobbly.
Also be aware that shoe size varies between brands and across different models as all shoes are designed and built of different sized feet. Don’t be surprised (or take it personally) if we suggest a shoe which is a bigger or smaller than your current shoe size.
The most important factor to be aware of though is whether the shoe feels good on your foot. When you first put it on it should feel comfortable. There is an increasing body of evidence suggesting that shoe comfort is linked to a reduced incidence of injury and potentially better performance so should be a driving factor behind shoe selection. This has been coined the ‘comfort filter’ by renown biomechanist Dr Benno-Nigg. Also selecting shoes which support our bodies ‘preferred movement pathway’ rather than fighting against it might be beneficial. Comfort might be king after all!
So once a shoe has passed the comfort test, we’ll suggest taking them for a spin on the treadmill. This is not so we can complete a full biomechanical assessment (we do offer this service for injury reduction and performance enhancement however) but so you see how the shoe feels whilst running.
When running in a shoe, keep in the mind comfort first of all, as well as the above mentioned factors. Additionally, you can use the “Running Footwear Comfort Assessment Tool (Run-Cat)” to help you determine whether a shoe is right. This assessment utilises four parameters of comfort as developed in 2020 by a team of researchers to help runners select shoes.
They take into account the following factors. The optimal level for each of these is somewhere in the middle:
- Heel cushioning
- Forefoot cushioning
- Forefoot flexibility
Once you have found the shoe which feels best then take it home and start introducing it into your current rotation. If the shoe is quite different to what you’re used to running in, then do it slowly so as to reduce the likelihood of soreness of injury.
So in summary, shoe choice is highly individual. What works for one athlete, might not work for you and there is no such thing as the best shoe. There is only the shoe which is right for you, so try and listen to your ‘foot brain’ next time you try on a pair of shoes.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out or drop by the store.
Bishop, Christopher & Buckley, Jonathan & Esterman, Adrian & Arnold, John. (2020). The running shoe comfort assessment tool (RUN-CAT): Development and evaluation of a new multi-item assessment tool for evaluating the comfort of running footwear. Journal of Sports Sciences. 38. 1-8. 10.1080
Malisoux L, Chambon N, Delattre N, et al Injury risk in runners using standard or motion control shoes: a randomised controlled trial with participant and assessor blinding British Journal of Sports Medicine 2016;50:481-487
Nielsen RO, Buist I, Parner ET, Nohr EA, Sørensen H, Lind M, Rasmussen S. Foot pronation is not associated with increased injury risk in novice runners wearing a neutral shoe: a 1-year prospective cohort study. Br J Sports Med. 2014 Mar;48(6):440-7
Nigg B, Baltich J, Hoerzer S, et al Running shoes and running injuries: mythbusting and a proposal for two new paradigms: ‘preferred movement path’ and ‘comfort filter’ British Journal of Sports Medicine 2015;49:1290-1294
Relph N, Greaves H, Armstrong R, Prior TD, Spencer S, Griffiths IB, Dey P, Langley B. Running shoes for preventing lower limb running injuries in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2022 Aug 22;8(8)
Ryan MB, Valiant GA, McDonald K, Taunton JE. The effect of three different levels of footwear stability on pain outcomes in women runners: a randomised control trial. Br J Sports Med. 2011 Jul;45(9):715-21