Choosing running shoes


Footwear is a multibillion dollar global industry. The big companies have branched into fashion apparel and it can be exceedingly difficult to choose a shoe based on brands and recommendations (and occasionally size availability). Even experienced runners may go through a number of models before deciding on the best shoe for them. Typically, they will read reviews or go with "top 10 lists" and often decide on the best pair they can "afford". These are all methods that are problematic and none of them addresses the requirement of the foot.

Methods available for choosing running shoes

1. Personal trial and error

This is probably the most common method of choosing a running shoe. Even experienced runners will share experiences with other runners or look up reviews and trial a shoe off the rack and then decide if it's good for them. Generally if it works then they'll stick with that for the next 6 months until the shoe wears out. Most of the time the shoe companies will produce an 'updated' version of the shoe by then and sometimes the shoe may be subtly different than the last experience and the runner goes on the hunt for a new shoe again. This method while exciting at each purchase can be very expensive if not damaging in the long run.

2. Observation of running

You'll see these kinds of assessments being done in malls and outlets all the time. The customer gets on a treadmill and runs and a 'trained specialist' will see how he/she runs and recommends the 'scientific footwear'. This method is dubious at best and can be downright injurious at worst. There can be no logical way that a casual observer can determine the minute to minute or microsecond to microsecond changes a foot goes through in running. Hence, this method should be regarded as a gimmick.

3. Software tools

A number of running companies like Mizuno have a selection system that appears to be very scientific at first glance. Under it's surface however is really just the standard chart that they have in the shops. It's not to say this isn't a good system - it can be very difficult to choose a shoe from it's bewildering array of models to choose from and I myself find it quite instructive. Nevertheless it should not be confused as a customized solution for the individual runner.

4. Gait analysis

These are methods reserved for research centers and the very top athletes. Motion capture reflectors are used to determine the position of the runner in an array of cameras and the athlete is made to run on a force plate and the whole matrix is programmed into the computer to determine how he/she is bearing weight or transferring forces. This is as precise as it gets but even for the fairly serious athlete can be overkill.

5. Force plate analysis

In force plate analyses the patient is made to walk on a plate that has a number of pressure sensor. This is used to determine the pressure and weight bearing of the foot and can be used before and after shoe fitting to see if it works. In my mind there is probably not a more accurate method for practical use as the following examples illustrate.

Figure 1. This adult shows her force-bearing line on the outside of her neutral pink line. These sorts of patterns are very uncommon and suggests a very well developed foot. Neutral footwear would be ideal in these circumstances.

Figure 2. This adult overpronator shows his force-bearing line on the inside of his neutral line. Weight bearing tends to be concentrated around the second toe of the forefoot and the patient had a lot of pain and callosities there. After shoes which provided good arch support , the weight distribution and pronation was vastly improved.

Figure 3. This flat-footed adult shows his force-bearing line on the inside of his neutral line. Weight bearing tends to be concentrated around the second toe of the forefoot and the patient had a lot of pain and callosities there. After shoes which provided good overall support , the weight distribution was vastly improved. Flat-footed patients are often confused with overpronators (even if they do tend to overpronate). Their shoes are quite different however offering maximum shock absorbancy rather than trying to correct the arch which often leads to a painful foot.

Figure 4. Children are often mistaken to have flat-footedness due to poor tone in their legs. The foot tends to flatten out due to lack of targetted muscle development. They will usually grow out of it. Often their force plate analysis is normal as at left. The child on the right however has an accessory naviculum causing the foot arch to collapse. This should not be confused with a physiological flat-foot and such patients do need arch support and the cause of the flat-foot addressed.

Figure 5 (video). This is a short video that explains the various issues highlighted above.