Sports Science Update: Don’t Use Arch Height To Select Running Shoes

Think you need a motion control running shoe because you have flat feet? Think again.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

As you probably know, running shoes are made and sold in categories. The major categories of trainers are performance (or lightweight), cushioned, stability, and motion control. The primary function of running shoes is to prevent injury. The rationale behind the existence of the various shoe categories is the belief that one or another particular category of shoe will do the best job of preventing injury in each individual runner based on the structure of his foot and his running biomechanics.

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The problem is that scientific support for this system is utterly lacking. A recent review by researchers at the University of Newcastle, Australia, found that there was no valid research evidence whatsoever to justify the current practice of prescribing certain shoe types to individual runners based on stride and foot characteristics, such as arch height, for the sake of minimizing injury risk.

Now along comes a new study from the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine that proves definitively that assigning shoe types based on foot arch height does not reduce injury risk. This study involved roughly 2,700 U.S. Air Force recruits. At the beginning of basic training, these recruits were separated into two groups of equal size. Members of one group were assigned one of three shoe types based on individual arch height, just as runners are taught to do. Specifically, individuals with high arches were given cushioned shoes, individuals with medium arches were given stability shoes, and individuals with low arches were given motion control shoes. All members of the other (“control”) group were given stability shoes regardless of individual arch height.

Injuries were tracked in both groups throughout basic training. The researchers found no difference in injury rates between the two groups and concluded that assigning shoe types based on arch height has no effect on injury risk.

So, then, how should runners select footwear? A similar past study found that allowing military recruits to self-select the footwear they found most comfortable did significantly reduce injury risk during basic training. This study was led by Benno Nigg of the University of Calgary, one of the world’s leading experts on running biomechanics, who is convinced that the feeling of comfort in a shoe is the body’s way of informing the wearer that the shoe is a good match for his or her individual needs.

So forget the conventional, complex, pseudo-scientific system of running shoe selection. If the shoe feels good, wear it!

Reference:

Knapik JJ, Brosch LC, Venuto M, Swedler DI, Bullock SH, Gaines LS, Murphy RJ, Tchandja J, Jones BH. Effect on injuries of assigning shoes based on foot shape in air force basic training. Am J Prev Med. 2010 Jan;38(1 Suppl):S197-211.

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