Are Your Running Shoes & Inserts Doing More Harm Than Good?
Updated: Aug 14, 2018
RunRepeat.com wrote an article on the use (and misuse) of arch supports and shoes, based on the analysis from over 150 studies. The purpose of their research was to determine the effects of arch supports on injury prevention & recovery, balance & stability, and on running performance. They also gave some insights into different types of shoes (e.g. minimalist, motion control) and how they may (or may not) affect these same variables (1).
There were several arguments made for and against wearing a specific shoe type based on foot type, as well as the need for arch supports. Here’s what they found, along with my personal opinion of each…
1. Running Economy (or Running Effort) & Performance
The Physician’s Opinion:
On shoes: Though minimalist shoes are lighter and encourage more of a forefoot striking pattern, which can, in turn, speed up gait and improve performance, I do not recommend their use for everyone or every day running. Running several miles on a daily basis in minimalist shoes can put one as risk for developing foot fractures as well as other lower extremity problems. Check out this barefoot debate article published in Runner’s World in 2010 between Ken Bob Saxton and Dr. Kevin Kirby. I was trained under Dr. Kevin Kirby and other similar-minded physicians. I have also personally developed a foot deformity as a result of using minimalist shoes; therefore, unless someone is using the shoe for races, I most often advise against using minimalist shoes for running.
On orthotics: When used to correct lower extremity alignment or control abnormal biomechanics, orthotics should be able to help improve running performance as they are making the lower extremity more efficient during the gait cycle. However, not everyone needs orthotics and I have never personally prescribed them for the sole, or direct, purpose of improving running performance.
2. Treatment & Recovery
The Physician’s Opinion:
My main reason for prescribing orthotics is for the treatment of lower extremity pain and/or problems, which are often related to one’s foot type and associated biomechanics. For example, people with flatfeet can be prone to developing plantar fasciitis and posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. Those with high arches are also prone to plantar fasciitis, as well as lateral ankle sprains and metatarsalgia (ball of foot pain). All of these conditions can be treated, in part, with the use of orthotics. Depending on the condition and patient’s foot type determines whether or not I feel an OTC orthotic is sufficient enough or the person would benefit more from a customized insert. Those with significantly high arches tend to need a customized orthotic.
3. Injury Prevention
The Physician’s Opinion:
Outside of a specific subset of patients, I do not typically recommend a certain shoe (i.e. minimalist, neutral, stability, motion control) for a specific foot type. My usual preference is a neutral shoe. If someone has a wider foot type, I usually suggest going for New Balance or Brooks. As far as orthotics go, I rarely prescribe them for direct prevention a condition or injury. Most often, I have prescribed them for treatment of an issue, but then recommended continued use for prevention of recurrence of a problem or injury.
4. Cushion & Comfort
The Physician’s Opinion: A study by Robbins and Waked showed an inverse relationship between surface stiffness and vertical impact with the greatest impact seen with the softest surfaces. This article supports the notion to go barefoot, to allow for increase in the mechnoreceptors along the bottom of your feet, to have better proprioception, and to react appropriately (2). What happens over time, though? With running, up to three times one’s body weight is going through the lower extremities. This is when stress injuries develop. Therefore, I believe it is important to have some padding for protection’s sake.
5. Balance & Stability
The Physician’s Opinion: As I mentioned above, I do not typically recommend a certain shoe type for a specific arch height or foot type as I believe one’s foot is going to move (i.e. pronate, supinate) through its gait cycle regardless of the shoe. That is where I use an orthotic to help with foot support, improve posture, and control abnormal motions.
CONCLUSION: Before you head to the store to buy a new pair of running shoes or new inserts for your current pair of shoes, I recommend talking to a healthcare professional first to ensure you are getting the most appropriate shoes for your feet and to know whether or not orthotics may be beneficial for you to try.
DISCLAIMER: The above blog information is meant for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult the doctor, or your own healthcare professional, should you have any questions or concerns related to your health.
1. Arch support – separating the truth from the gimmicks. Retrieved from https://runrepeat.com/arch-support-study.
2. Robbins, S., & Waked, E. (1997). Balance and vertical impact in sports: role of shoe sole materials. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 78(5), 463-467.