Selecting Shoes by Foot Shape


Results of three military studies showed that prescribing shoes based on foot shape made no difference in the rate at which injuries 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.

Any runner is familiar with the idea that certain shoes are made for certain types of feet.  We’ve got motion control shoes, neutral cushioned shoes, stability shoes….  The idea being that these different types of shoes help guide feet in the healthiest most efficient manner.  This concept has been challenged by three military studies.  Army, Air Force and Marine studies all had similar results.

“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.

The most recent study looked at 1400 Marine recruits.  Men and women were randomly assigned into two groups.  One group got shoes matched to their foot type, the other group received stability shoes. Similar to Army and Air Force 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.

I wonder what the shoe companies have to say?

These findings echo statements found in Noakes’ Lore of Running.  He refers to a study by Stacoff (1998) of orthotics.  The study found that the orthotics–thought to control pronation of the foot–didn’t actually change ankle motion in the test subjects.  Though this study refers to orthotics, it’s quite likely that shoes designed to control pronation produce similar results.  So if shoes are prescribed to a runner based on his or her foot strike pattern, and if we’re expecting to see that foot strike pattern altered in a certain way, then the expected outcome is unlikely.

That’s not to say the right shoes and/or orthotics won’t work for an individual.  But the mechanism by which these shoes and inserts work is unclear.  At the very least, these studies suggest that we don’t really know why a certain shoe or orthotic may work for someone.  Nor can we predict accurately the right type of shoe/orthotic someone needs based on looking at their foot type.

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