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Should Runners Choose Thick or Thin Soled Shoes?

It’s Christmas Eve, and if you’re wondering what kind of new sneakers to stick in your stocking this year, there’s a new study out in Scientific Reports that might be of interest: according to their findings, running in highly cushioned shoes can actually make your legs so stiff that you’re more likely to get injured on a run! Let’s take a closer look at the findings. Don't fall for gimmicks: choose runing shoes that feel good on your feet!

Inside the Running Shoe Study

To reach their findings, study authors followed 12 healthy men, with an average age of 27, who were either regular runners or accustomed to playing sports. The men were given two types of sneakers: thickly cushioned Hoka One One Conquests and thinner-soled Brooks Ghost 6 runners.

The men were told to run and jog wearing each set of shoes, and researchers conducted a 3-D analysis of their forms while they were in motion.

After reviewing the videos, study leaders found a surprising result: he men wearing the more cushioned shoes bent their knees less; this made them strike the ground with more force than those who wore less padded shoes. The faster the men ran, the worse the effect of the highly padded sneakers.  

According to lead researcher Juha-Pekka Kulmala, PhD, “Highly cushioned and compliant shoes compress under the foot during the ground contact of running when three times body weight load is placed upon the lower limb. The leg tends to compensate this to maintain a preferred bouncing movement of running and therefore become stiffer and compresses less. This typically results in similar impacts across different cushioning properties. However, it seems that very heavily cushioned shoes even increase impacts.”

So, Should I Buy Lightly Padded Sneakers?

I’d caution against taking one study’s finding as your new running bible. Remember, just a few years ago, barefoot running was the be-all and end-all of injury prevention. Now, Vibram five-finger shoes have had to settle lawsuits for making claims that their shoes can prevent running injuries.

While runners and scientists argue back and forth about the best way to keep your feet safe, one thing is clear. Shoes that don’t feel good will affect your likelihood of getting injured while running.

If your sneakers aren’t comfy, your gait may be affected—and, as a Utah running doctor, I think gait has far more to do with running injuries than the type of sneaker you select. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should try running a marathon in a pair of sandals—that’s never something I would recommend.

Instead, I suggest finding an athletic shoe with at least some padding—think of Goldilocks, here: not too much, not too little, but just the right amount that feels good on your feet!

Once you have that feels-good pair, get running, and take proper training precautions. Build rest days and resistance training into your workout routines, and replace those comfy shoes every 300-500 miles. Following these steps, rather than seeking out some “super-shoe” is far more likely to keep you running comfortably.  

Brandt R Gibson, DPM
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Podiatrist, Neuropathy Doctor, Father of 11 and Founder of Mountain West Foot & Ankle Institute

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