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Is it the Shoes?

Running shoes are a point of contention and are hotly debated in the running community. Patients will often ask me for my shoe recommendations based on what I assess about their foot, strength, body, etc., and it’s always a tricky conversation to have. The running shoe industry has changed and evolved with new technology and runner’s preferences based on what’s trending from a cultural perspective. Dr. Kate and I talked with Steve DeMoss of Big Peach Running Company on our podcast (“More Than Miles”), and we learned about exactly how things have shifted over the years, from his perspective in running store retail.

Researchers have studied this very topic, of the “ideal” running shoe, and the results are frustratingly simple: the best running shoe for you is the one that is the most comfortable. Certainly, there are some nuances with respect to orthotics or other shoe inserts, various levels of cushioning and/or support, and different heel-to-toe drops, depending upon the runner’s anatomy, but by and large comfort is a good indicator of a running shoe match.

When choosing a running shoe, there are two aspects to consider. The first is the runner’s anatomy, hip/ankle/foot strength, and injury history. A PT or running coach with expertise in these areas can combine these factors along with a running gait analysis to determine a starting point when you go to your local running store. Secondly, there is the brand-dependent shape and design of the shoe. This is where a fit expert at a running store can help guide you, as different brands have different toe box sizes, widths, heel cups, levels of cushioning, etc. Trying on several different shoes can help you get a feel for how a certain brand fits your foot specifically, and this is where our science of “the most comfortable shoe” comes in. Occasionally I will make some recommendations in special cases, or utilize a certain shoe with more support until the athlete is strong enough to support themselves muscularly. However, the experts in the different models of shoes are the people at your local running store.

If you are struggling with injuries, a gait analysis by a PT or skilled running coach will give you valuable information to determine if a certain shoe is increasing your injury risk. Running gait is different than walking gait, so it is imperative to seek out someone who is skilled in running gait specifically, rather than relying on your running store specialists.

It is important to remember that the athlete is the one running, not the shoes. The shoes are often an easy scapegoat when it comes to injury causation, but there are a multitude of factors that contribute to injury risk, with footwear a very minor factor. There simply is no substitute for proper training, recovery practices, and strength training. Runners often ask me “What shoes are best for someone with [insert running injury here]”, and I am passionately against putting more energy into running shoe choice than finding the root cause of the issue.

In summary, utilize both your health care and running shoe experts to find your “glass slipper” to train for your next race in. Be patient, it may take a few tries to get it right, and shoe companies are constantly updating their shoe models. Strength training never goes out of style, though :)

Keep going, you got this!

Dr. Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT


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