Making matters more difficult, studies have identified many confounding factors that predict running-related injuries. Certain running injuries are more common in females, in males, in the young, in the old, those that weigh too much, those that weigh too little, and, well, injuries are also more common in those that have already been injured. Confused yet? It’s a wonder anyone makes it back home after a jog in the park.
But can we really blame these injuries on the shoes runners are wearing? Blaming your running shoes for injuries seems somewhat akin to faulting golf clubs for a bogey. In fact, says Brian Metzler, editor in chief of the running magazine Competitor, “The notion that running shoes can prevent injury is fallacy.” To blame it all on shoes, you ignore other, more likely contributors to running’s high injury rate, namely training errors and new people who come to the sport from a non-running background. Metzler asserts there are those within the running shoe industry that maintain that advancements in shoe technology have prevented the rate of injury from rising even higher.
But it doesn’t take a sports scientist to realize that the case for running as a high-risk activity lies with the repetitive impact of every stride. Every joint, bone, muscle, and tendon from the feet to the lower back experiences an impact of up to five times the person’s body weight and so far, attempts to stifle that energy by changing what is laced to the foot hasn’t resulted in reduced injury. However, the belief that injury risk is solely defined by how hard and how many times the foot hits the ground is fundamentally flawed. Rather, the manner in which the body’s muscles and nervous system respond to this impact is a critical determinant of stress to the body. After all, the running stride is a wonderfully individualistic and intricate melding of foot, ankle, knee, hip, and upper body motion. Trying to control injury risk must always contend both with the complexity of the running stride and its inherent individuality in every runner.
Nike’s introduction of gas-filled membranes in the sole of the Tailwind that is often cited as the launching point of the traditional running shoe and until recently, the design of this modern running shoe was varied by changing the rigidity and arch support of the shoe. Advances in the cushioning material of the shoe, not necessarily the design itself, were the measuring stick for innovation.
“Part of the problem” says Jay Dicharry, a physical therapist and expert in biomechanical analysis, “is the shoe industry as a whole does a really horrible job of matching footwear to feet…All the methods used to fit feet to shoes don’t really hold up as valid ways to classify runners and to match shoes.”
The book Born to Run fueled a second wave of runners, one that believed that runners had been duped by the shoe industry into wearing a shoe that interrupted millions of years of evolution, forcing runners into a running style that actually caused more problems than it fixed. Riding a surge of testimonials and popular media, sales of minimalist shoes increased 300 percent in 2012, compared with a 19 percent increase in traditional running shoe sales in that same year.