Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Study Spotlight: Athletic Footwear Unsafe Due to Perceptual Illusions

The barefoot/natural running movement has seemingly ran off into obscurity just as fast as it came in as the cure for all your running problems.  Five fingered and minimalist shoes were all the rage and we saw people trying to take the running style they had utilized for years in highly cushioned shoes and immediately transition over.  The results were often disastrous.  Injuries were frequent and the natural running concept was heavily debated and the use of minimalist shoes was questioned.

New research has called into question the safety of "traditional" running shoes and if they are actually that much safer for us to wear.

In his research article "Athletic Footwear: Unsafe Due to Perceptual Illusions" Steven Robins looked at why wearing cushioned running shoes is also unsafe and don't always offer the protection they so heavily claim.

What he found was that there was a perceptual illusion created when using highly cushioned shoes and that the perceived impact was lower than what the actual impact of the foot hitting the ground was.  This led to an inability to accurately judge how hard a person was striking the ground and therefore not having the ability to modify that impact.  This inevitably led to injuries.  In the study he also argues against the purchase of "specialized" shoes that offer protective services:

"Wearers of expensive running shoes that are promoted as having additional features that protect (e.g., more cushioning, “pronation correction”) are injured significantly more frequently than runners employing inexpensive shoes (costing less than US $40), with no major manufacture superior to others with respect to injury incidence."

Other reports have shown that when runners who are not practiced in running barefoot and then use this skill they do not have a higher impact to the ground compared to when they are in a shoe, and in some cases the rate of impact is lower.

"This is strengthened by reports indicating that, when habitually barefoot humans walk (and probably when they run), they have greater knee flexion, which has been shown to reduce shock, compared with shod subjects.  In addition, when running, their longitudinal foot arches deflect from highly arched to flat with each gait cycle, which likely has shock absorbing properties."

This key point is one that we teach and believe in for people who are wanting to just start out running or change their running style.  The concept of utilizing and increasing knee flexion is at the core of the Pose Method and one we discussed in our article "To Heel Strike or Not to Heel Strike...Is This Really a Question?".  Utilizing your bodies soft tissue and dynamic structures to help absorb the impact and attenuate it to be less force on your body will substantially reduce your risk of injury.

Take Away:  Shoe technology has progressively "improved" for decades with the latest technology in pronation control, increase heel support and even a small chip being put in to adjust the shoe on the fly but yet injury rates have remained constant.  This is a telling fact that we are spending tremendous amounts of money on technology that doesn't actually seem to helping us at all.  The idea of turning over your shoes every several hundred miles came via a recommendation from none other than a shoe company. That recommendation sounds like a pretty solid sales tactic.  Injury rates have not changed with the technology and I believe this is a bold statement in the technology itself.

If you have had issues with injury in your running career and have tried all different types of shoes it may be time to try learning a different skill of running and adapting to something that will decrease the impact on your body.  Using highly cushioned shoes gives you the illusion that impact has been reduced but as this study talks about that is not the case.

For more information please contact us at

Athletic footwear Unsafe due to perceptual illusions
Steven E. Robbins
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise

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