Sports Science Update: So Much For The Footprint Test

The footprint test may be a thing of the past. Photo: Flickr/ezioman

The footprint test may be a thing of the past. Photo: Flickr/ezioman

A new study suggests you can’t reduce your running injury risk by matching your footprint to your arch.

For many years, running shoe experts have used the so-called footprint test to match individual runners with the right type of shoe to minimize their injury risk. In this test, the runner wets the underside of his or her foot and steps on a piece of paper to leave a footprint. The footprint is analyzed to determine whether the runner has a high arch, a normal arch, or a low arch. Arch type is considered to be a proxy for degree of foot pronation on foot strike during running. A low arch is taken to indicate a high degree of pronation, requiring a motion control shoe. A normal arch indicates moderate pronation, requiring a stability shoe. And a high arch indicates minimal pronation, requiring a cushioned shoe.

These prescriptions are based on the following three assumptions: 1) than foot pronation is a major cause of running injuries, 2) that managing pronation reduces the risk of running injuries, and 3) that running shoes can effectively manage pronation.

A scientific review published earlier this year found that there was no scientific support whatsoever for this group of assumptions. And a new study out of the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Science has found that it does not, in fact, reduce injury risk. In this study, more than 1,500 Army recruits were given either motion control, stability or cushioned running shoes based on their arch type. An equal number of recruits were given stability shoes regardless of their arch type. Injuries in both populations were tracked through nine weeks of basic training.

The researchers found no difference in injury rates between the two groups. Even when other risk factors such as body weight and physical fitness were statistically controlled for, no effect of customized shoe type prescription was observed. So much for the footprint test.

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