Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Shoe Dilemma

When that time comes to retire my worn shoes I usually walk into my nearby running shoe store.   There I am greeted by a 19 year old sales person whose job is to assist me in finding "the right shoe" for my foot.  First off, I know these kids don't have a background in bio mechanics so I have always been wary of heeding their advice.  If you have a high arch they push you to buy highly cushioned, super supportive shoes.  By the way I have the highest arch you've ever seen; I was born into heels.  On the other hand, if you have flat Barney Rubble feet they will try to squeeze you into motion control shoes.  I don't mean to discredit the smaller shoe stores staffed with knowledgeable sales people; I am speaking strictly in terms of most major retailers. 

A few months ago I switched brands and tried an entirely different type of shoe.  I chose a pair that sounded in theory like the right pair but they didn't feel right.  Hello Kate! Red flag!  Within two weeks I was selling my bib for an upcoming race and doing swim workouts.  Why?  Because I had a stress fracture in my 3rd metatarsal.  It was quite disheartening and since then I listen to my feet and nobody else about running shoes.

Just today, Gretchen Reynolds posted an interesting article about this very topic on her Phys Ed section of the New York Times website titled 'Do certain types of sneakers prevent injury?'  I have to say, I love that Gretchen uses the word sneakers.  I didn't know people still said "sneakers" and what's worse is my mom calls them "tennies" short for tennis shoes.  I find it cute, but let's move on.

In Gretchen's write-up she mentions a few studies conducted by U.S. military researchers that were recently published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine.  What they found was almost no correlation at all between wearing the "proper running shoes" and avoiding injury.  Injury rates were high among all the runners, but they were highest among the soldiers who had received shoes designed specifically for their foot types. If anything, wearing the “right” shoes for their particular foot type had increased their risk of pain or injury.  A later study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found the same thing.  "The right shoe" was more likely to result in pain.

Now, in my humble opinion, I do NOT believe a running shoe can prevent injury.  That said, I definitely feel a running shoe can contribute in part to injury if one is wearing a shoe that doesn't feel right.  My opinion is based off of my own experience and this study seems to validate that.  Many even believe that today's shoes weaken the feet by providing too much support.  This was one of the controversial messages in the bestseller 'Born to Run' which advocates barefoot running.

I say, go with how you feel.   After my fracture I exchanged the awkward feeling shoes for a pair that felt comfortable and I was good to go.  I made it through the last several months pain and injury free by listening to my feet instead of the "shoe experts".   Sometimes I think we, ourselves, are the best judge for what is right.  Common sense prevails this time, my friends!