The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Are Soft Running Shoes Good for You? Researchers Weigh In

Posted by on Monday, October 22nd, 2018

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Are soft running shoes good for you? A new study published in The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine found that one type of running shoe increases the risk of lower leg pain and injury more than others. The research by the Functional Orthopedic Research Center of Excellence (FORCE Lab) at Oregon State University-Cascades is the first of its kind to take such a rigorous look at the impact of maximal shoes.

Are Soft Running Shoes Good for You?
Hoka is the most well-known maximalist shoe, but could it be associated with greater risk of injury? [Image Source: Shopify.com]

Study Findings

The research compared the biomechanics of 15 female runners, with each runner participating in two testing sessions—one in maximal shoes (Hoka One One Bondi 4) and one in neutral shoes (New Balance 880). Three-dimensional kinematic and kinetic data was collected over the course of a 5K treadmill run.

Scientists noticed a higher impact peak and higher loading rate with maximal shoes. Increases in both factors are associated with a greater likelihood of developing plantar fasciitis, tibial stress fracture, patellofemoral pain, Achilles tendonitis, and iliotibial band friction syndrome. Over a 13-week training program, Taunton and colleagues found 29.5% of runners will sustain one of these injuries.

The results were surprising to researchers. What runners said about the perceived comfort of the shoes during the run contrasted with what the data said about their propensity for injury. “I think everybody just assumed, ‘When there is more cushion, it’s going to help distribute that force differently,’” explained Cindy Conti, manager of the FORCE Lab.

“Typically, increased cushioning results in a reduction in the impact peak and loading rate of the vertical ground reaction force,” added Christine Pollard, director of the FORCE Lab and an associate professor of kinesiology. “We suspect that the large amount of cushioning across the entire midsole caused the runners to rely more on the shoe than on their own internal structures to attenuate these forces.”

The study did not find a direct correlation with running injuries, but rather, an increase in risk factors that typically lead to injury. While it’s true they only looked at a small pool of runners, the study helps explain why injury rates have not decreased over the past decade, despite “advances” in shoe technology. Further studies on how men respond to maximalist shoes are needed.

What Are Maximal Running Shoes?

The Hoka One One is a maximal running shoe first introduced to the market in 2010, offering a more “comfortable” experience for runners with increased cushioning in the forefoot region of the mid-sole. The maximal shoe offers five times’ the amount of standard sole cushioning and a broader support base for shock absorption. The foot sinks down into the shoe, rather than just riding on top. There is also a bit of a “rocker” bottom to assist with stability, landing, and performance.

Hoka and Altra are the two most well-known maximal brands, offering a number of cushioned shoes. Today, you’ll see most brands offer at least one maximal shoe, including:

  • Merrell Agility Peak Flex
  • Saucony Xodus
  • Nike Zoom Vaporfly
  • Salomon Sense Pro Max
  • New Balance Fresh Foam 980

Long-distance runners—like Chuck Brockman who navigates a 13-mile (mostly downhill) loop—say they “don’t feel it as much” in their joints when wearing maximal shoes. They especially feel the benefits of the extra cushioning starting around miles 2 and 3. “I’m a big proponent of running in shoes that are comfortable,” the physical therapist told the Union Democrat.

In addition to ultrarunners, maximalist shoes have found a following among trail runners and working professionals who are on their feet all day.

Are Soft Running Shoes Good for You? Ask an NYC Podiatrist.

Here at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine, we routinely make recommendations to avid NYC runners on the best shoe types for individual feet. We have a state-of-the-art Gait Analysis Center where we can analyze your foot pressure and stride to assess your underlying biomechanics and risk for injury. Stop by and see us for personalized assistance with your running program. Contact us today.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.