The Myths & Problems with Traditional Running Shoes & Potential Scientific Based Solutions

Myth 1: Modern running shoes reduce injuries.

Reality: Despite all the advances in technology, running injuries have not gone down since modern running shoes were inventedsome have even gone up[1]. This is likely because several prevailing myths that are not based in science have prevailed in running shoe design & marketing. No traditional running shoe has ever been proven to reduce injury.[2]

Why: See below.

Myth 2: Cushioning technologies will protect the joints. Therefore the marketing has always been along the lines of “The Gel in these Asics will save your knees” or “run however you want, the cushioning technology will protect you.”

Reality: Peer reviewed research has shown that not only does cushioning not protect joints[3], but when more cushioning is used, especially in the heel of the shoe, it actually magnifies forces higher up the kinetic chain (knees, hips, back, etc.)[4]. In fact, shoes with elevated, cushy heels “provoke a sharp reduction in (the body’s natural) shock-moderating behaviour, thus increasing impact force.”[5] The more the cushioning, the harder the body instinctively hits the ground.[6]

Solution: Foot-shaped, Zero Drop shoes allow the body to land in a way it can naturally absorb impact, bending at the knee and splaying the toes to allow the body to naturally and near perfectly absorb impact. There is enough cushioning to protect the feet, but no excessive, raised heel cushioning that causes the body to land unnaturally and impact harder.

Note: Cushioning has been shown to work at the point of impact, i.e. shoe cushioning will protect the foot to some degree, but not the knees. This is similar to how boxing gloves protect the hands, but shoulders are the #1 injury among boxers.

Myth 3: Traditional running shoes will help people run better

Reality: The heavy, raised heel in running shoes has changed the way most people run significantly for the worse, likely leading to injury rates referenced above. 50 years ago, before modern running shoes with heavy, elevated heels were invented, it was rare to see any runner over-striding or landing harshly on their heel out in front of their body. Now, around 80% of runners over-stride, which Harvard research in 20092 linked to an average of 3 to 5 times more initial impact (Vertical Loading Rate) in runners, despite wearing the best selling, well cushioned running shoes on the market.

Solution: Zero Drop Shoes remove the offending heavy, elevated heel and are level and weight balanced from heel to forefoot, and therefore allow the body to land naturally without over-striding. A 2016 study by the University of Northern Iowa[7] shows this to be the case compared to some of the best selling running shoes on the market.

Myth 4: “Good”, supportive, modern shoes will prevent or cure foot problems

Reality: In America, 73% of the population reports foot pain annually![8] In populations where people go barefoot or wear primitive footwear that don’t have elevated heels or closed toes, the incidence of foot problems is 3%. These populations experience none of our common chronic foot conditions such as bunions, neuromas, plantar fasciosis, hammer toes, etc.[9][10] Nearly all foot pain/problems are caused by shoes manipulating our feet out of their natural position by raising the heels, pushing up under the arch, and crowding the toes together.

Solution: Foot-shaped, Zero Drop shoes allow the foot to assume its natural, barefoot position while providing some cushioning to protect the foot from hard, flat, modern surfaces.

Myth 5: Over-pronation causes injuries & “stability” running shoes will fix it

Reality: Over 200 studies have been done on “over-pronation” of the foot & injuries—no significant link has ever been found.[11] Ironically, shoes built to reduce over-pronation have been shown to not work. Lab tests show that stability shoes make it appear that the pronation is not happening, but the foot continues to pronate the exact same amount inside the shoe! In fact, some studies show that “over-pronators” are less injured than other runners. The Running Injury Clinic in Calgary has followed about 4,000 runners for 6 years and found out that only about 15% of runners benefited from wearing a stability shoe, and many of those don’t over-pronate[12]. The majority of the population is least injured & best served by wearing a shoe that “lets the body do what it naturally wants to do.”

Solution: Foot-shaped, Zero Drop shoes keep the foot in its natural, barefoot position and allow the foot and body to “do what it wants to do” and naturally absorb impact and stabilize the foot. This is important because researchers suggest the two most important factors in a shoe reducing injury are that it a) is the most comfortable and b) allows a person to go through their “preferred movement pattern”[13] (i.e. run like they would barefoot on a natural surface)

Myth 6: Running injuries come from running on hard surfaces

Reality: Most running injuries are likely due to muscle imbalances created by repetitive motion & running unnaturally (often caused by elevated heel shoes). Running injuries have a much higher incidence on soft surfaces like tracks & astroturf than they do on natural surfaces that make every step different. These natural surfaces could be rock hard, but they encourage more natural impact & muscle distribution because every step is different and they force better, natural running technique.

Solution: 1/3 of running mileage on trails or other uneven surfaces such as cobblestones or grass has been observed to have a significantly protective effect.[14] Foot-shaped, Zero Drop trail running shoes have proven to be very adept on uneven surfaces, being the #1 choice of shoe among serious runners at the “Super bowl of trail and ultra running.”[15]

Based on their belief on much of the above research, the American College of Sports Medicine essentially describes foot-shaped, Zero Drop shoes in their recommendations for “Selecting Running Shoes”[16]: “Characteristics of a good, safe running shoe include:

• Shoes with no drop…are the best choice.

• Neutral: The shoe does not contain…extra components (that) interfere with normal foot motion.

• Light in weight

• Be sure the shoe has a wide toe box. You should be able to wiggle your toes easily.

Additionally, they describe nearly all traditional running shoes in their “Shoe qualities to avoid”:

• Shoes that have a high heel cushion and low forefoot cushion (high heel to toe drop)

• Narrow toe boxes do not permit the normal splay, or spread of the foot bones during running. This will prevent your feet from being able to safely distribute the forces during the loading phase of gait.

Research References:

[1] Van Mechelen W. Running injuries. A review of the epidemiological literature. Sports Med. 1992; 14(5):320-35. Nigg B, et al Br J Sports Med 2015;49:1290-1294.

[2] Richards, et al, University of Newcastle, 2009.

[3] Lieberman, et al, 2009.

[4] Kerrigan, et al, 2009.

[5] Robbins and Hanna, 1987; Robbins et al., 1989; Robbins and Gouw, 1990

[6] Nigg, et al, Calgary, 1997

[7] Ficklin, et. al, University of Norther Iowa, 2016

[8] 2010 APMA Annual Report

[9] Schulman, 1949, Jamaica, NY

[10] I.B. Shine, 1962, St. Helena

[11] , 2015

[12] Ferber R, et al Running Injury Clinic, Calgary: Green Runner Study

[13] 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’ Br J Sports Med 2015;49:1290-1294.

[14] Harper, 2005, Brigham Young University

[15] 2017 Observed Footwear Choices, Western States Endurance Run 100 Mile Race. iRunFar: Your Trail Running & Ultramarathon Resource



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s