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There’s no scientific evidence for benefits of ‘motion-control’ running shoes, studies find

I’ve been snookered (to use one of this month’s words du jour).

For more than two decades, on the advice of doctors, trainers and shoe salespeople alike, I’ve bought “motion-control” running shoes. My feet overpronate and, thus, I needed (or so I was told) heavy, rigid shoes to avoid injuries.

I got injured anyway, and gave up running marathons (after two) for that reason. But I’ve kept buying motion-control running and walking shoes, even though I’ve hated wearing them. They’ve always felt too hard, too heavy, too inflexible.

Now I learn, thanks to an article by Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times, that those shoes were an unnecessary precaution. In fact, it’s possible that they may have contributed to my injuries.

What’s even more aggravating to learn (here’s where the snookered part comes in) is that all that advice I was given about runners with pronating feet needing sturdier shoes was based on no scientific evidence at all. Writes Reynolds:

Scientific rumblings about whether running shoes deliver on their promises have been growing louder in recent years. In 2008, an influential review article in The British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that sports-medicine specialists should stop recommending running shoes based on a person’s foot posture. No scientific evidence supported the practice, the authors pointed out, concluding that “the true effects” of today’s running shoes “on the health and performance of distance runners remain unknown.”

Reynolds describes two new studies that back up that conclusion. Last June, in the latest of a series of their own studies on the topic, military researchers concluded that “assigning shoes based on the shape of the plantar foot surface [low, normal or high arches] had little influence on injuries even after considering other injury risk factors.” In fact, their research found that military recruits were more likely to get injured when assigned shoes specifically for their foot postures.

Canadian researchers also reported last month that experienced women runners who engaged in a 13-week half-marathon training program were more likely to miss training days due to injury if they had been assigned a running shoe that “matched” their foot posture than if they had been given a shoe type at random. “The findings of this study suggest that our current approach of prescribing in-shoe pronation control systems on the basis of foot type is overly simplistic and potentially injurious,” concluded the researchers.

Motion-control shoes may be particularly problematic, as Reynolds points out:

It’s worth noting that across the board, motion-control shoes were the most injurious for the runners. Many overpronators, who, in theory, should have benefited from motion-control shoes, complained of pain and missed training days after wearing them, as did a number of the runners with normal feet and every single underpronating runner assigned to the motion-control shoes.

I can’t wait to go shoe shopping this weekend.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Phil Dech on 07/27/2010 - 11:56 am.

    Interesting. I’ve always sort of wondered about that. Perhaps there is a good biomechanical reason for some runners to “overpronate” that we shouldn’t be discouraging.

    Fortunately I’ve been buying running shoes since well before those classifications, and pretty much ignore them. I buy a pair if they fit well, and I’ll give them some break-in time but ditch them pretty quickly if I don’t feel right running in them.

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/27/2010 - 01:15 pm.

    Read ‘Born to Run’. The author begins the tale recounting his extensive and ongoing running injuries. Trying to find out why he keeps getting hurt while wearing fancy and expensive high tech shoes while various runners from 3rd world countries can run dozens of miles a day wearing sandals made from recycled tires is one helluva story.

    I read it just after buying my first pair of fancy running shoes, which are working for me so far, but I’m still wondering if I’ve been snookered. After the TC marathon I’m going to experiment with alternatives. Our ancestors have been running for millenia without the help of nike, et al; why are we so convinced we need them now?

  3. Submitted by Paul Scott on 07/28/2010 - 08:29 am.

    I’ve been using Vibram Five Fingers lately, which are essentially non shoes — barefoot running without the fear of puncture, glass, etc. I haven’t run much in them but I use them when exercising and I can’t imagine going back to large platform style running shoes. My feet are suddenly involved again. As I wrote here on your break a while back, a study has found that people who run in running shoes hit with a rear foot strike, while barefoot runners hit with the midfoot, and I can’t imagine that doesn’t alter the mechanics of pronation.

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