WASHINGTON — If you want to minimize your chance of injury while running, you choose a shoe based on your foot shape, right?
Wrong. Results of three military studies show prescribing shoes based on foot shape made no difference in the injury rate occurred in Army, Marine and Air Force basic trainees, who spend quite a bit of time running. That’s “no” as in none, sports fans.
“We found no scientific basis for choosing running shoes based on foot type,” said Bruce Jones, M.D., injury prevention program manager at U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional), Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. “Our findings have surprised not just military decision-makers — many of whom run to stay fit — but runners in general.”
Popular running and sports medicine literature recommends people with high arches choose cushioning shoes, those with normal arches should choose stability shoes, and runners with flat feet should choose motion-control shoes, Jones said.
The literature says that shoes will compensate for the way foot types strike the ground during running and lessen injuries to the legs and feet.
“This seemed to many of us to make sense,” said Jones, a long-distance runner for many years. “But when we looked at it in multiple, scientific studies, it turned out to be a sports myth.”
Jones and his colleagues were asked by the Department of Defense to test whether basic trainees suffered fewer injuries if shoes were matched to foot type in the way the literature suggested. Overall, the health command’s injury experts — led by Dr. Joseph Knapik — looked at more than 9,000 pair of feet, manually measuring arch height as well as taking foot imprints. In the most recent study of Marine recruits, 1,400 men and women were divided into two groups at random, with one group receiving shoes matched to their foot types and the other group (the control group) receiving stability shoes. Like their Army and Air Force counterparts from two previous studies, the recruits with shoes prescribed according to foot type experienced the same rate of injuries as those in the control group, regardless of other factors, such as age, sex, race and smoking habits.The military services are keenly interested in preventing injuries from running, and for good reason.
“Injuries are the leading health problem in the U.S. military, resulting in about 2 million visits to medical treatment facilities a year,” Jones said. “Of those, more than 50 percent are lower-extremity injuries caused by weight-bearing training, and the biggest culprit is running.”
In addition to the pain and disruption the servicemember suffers, such injuries mean duty time lost to recovery, which in turn affects unit readiness. Some medical experts argue that static foot morphology (what Jones and colleagues looked at in their studies) is less predictive of injuries than studying the foot in motion, but so far that theory has not been put to the scientific test.
In the meantime, what’s a runner to do?
“You can’t simply look at foot type as a basis for choosing running shoes if you want to prevent injuries,” Jones said. “You should choose a shoe that you like and that feels comfortable.”
In other words, if the shoe fits (comfortably) — wear it.