The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Cushioned Heel Running Shoes Drastically Affects A Person’s Gait

Posted by on Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

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Most of the running shoes you’ll find today feature a cushioned heel “for greater comfort.” However, it was recently discovered that these shoes may alter a runner’s biomechanics and actually diminish performance. This new report comes to us from the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

The Running Shoes Study

Researchers tracked 12 adolescent competitive track stars and asked them to run on a treadmill in large heel trainers, track flats and barefoot at four different speeds. Using a motion capture gait analysis system, they assessed stride length, heel height (during the posterior swing phase), and foot/ground contact. “What we were trying to evaluate is whether or not the foot strike would change in an adolescent — who doesn’t yet have a permanently established gate — when they changed their shoe or running speed,” explained Scott Mullen, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at The University of Kansas Hospital.

Their hypothesis was, indeed, confirmed. The shoe type “dramatically” altered running biomechanics. Here’s what they found:

  • When wearing cushioned heel trainers, the athletes landed on their heels 69.8% of the time, regardless of speed.
  • With track flats, the athletes landed on their heels less than 35% of the time.
  • When barefoot, the athletes landed on their heels less than 30% of the time.

“What we found is that simply by changing their footwear, the runners’ foot strike would change,” said Dr. Mullen. “When they ran in the cushioned heel or an average running shoe ─ even when running a 5-minute mile ─ the athletes landed on their heel first.”

Why Does Running Gait Matter?

The scientists concluded that competing in track spikes or cushioned heel trainers may give athletes less of a performance advantage. This research builds upon a similar 2010 study, which found that heel-strike running distributes more energy to the knees and hips. By contrast, a forefoot strike may “present a healthier foot strike for runners over a lifetime, possibly resulting in fewer hip and knee problems,” said Dr. Mullen, although he says more research is needed.

 

What About Barefoot Running?

Barefoot running has been hot news since the 1960s when Abebe Bikila set a new world record marathon time at the Rome Olympics — all without shoes. Since then, manufacturers have come up with unique shoe designs they say mimics the barefoot feel, while still providing a little bit of protection to the soles of the feet. While studies have demonstrated that barefoot running encourages a mid or forefoot running gait, not every scientist is enthused about this trend.

Benno Nigg and Henrik Enders from the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Calgary found that research doesn’t prove the merits of barefoot running or the reduced injury risks. Speed and individual skill are too big a variable to ignore, they said. Currently, more testing is being conducted to determine the long-term effects of barefoot running on the body’s other muscles, tendons and joints.

Don’t Neglect Shoe Fit!

Here at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in New York City, we find that most of the foot injuries are related to improper shoe fit, socks or training. Everything from blisters, toenail injuries, and plantar fasciitis, to sprained ankles, foot stress fractures and flattened arches can be attributed to sock and shoe choice, as well as training methods. Overuse injuries are especially common. One cannot pound the pavement every single day with no rest between or stand for eight hours a day at work and expect there to be no repercussions to their feet. A podiatrist can help you select the right footwear and fit your shoes with custom orthotics to make it more comfortable for you to stand, walk and run.

 

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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.