Dishonest Research on Protective Footwear Spawns More Injuries in Runners

The biggest misconception in running is cushioned running shoes prevents injury, but where did this belief originate from? Fabricated data, manipulated results from studies conducted in factually incorrect ways by the footwear industry.

Running Shoe Industry and Running Injuries

Dishonest research results in misguided beliefs which harm runners when clinical decisions are based on faulty information -hence why you never had any luck with your orthotics or motion control stability running shoes.

In efforts to better understand the relation of injury and running, researchers discovered that running-related injuries are virtually uncommon in habitual barefoot populations.

In nature, organisms, humans included, evolved strategies to gain advantage over others without incurring the cost of effort. For a closer approximation, we must look at how our ancestors ran on the plains of Africa 4 million years ago.

  • The challenges imposed by barefoot conditions (remember, our ancestors ran barefoot) led to the impressive evolution of the forefoot running technique responsible for the great leap forward in injury-free endurance running.

Fast forward to today and we now have an epidemic of running-related injuries triggered by deceptive advertisements by footwear manufacturers that pin-point strategies to protect our ‘delicate’ legs and feet from running. This resulted in the collapse of confidence in our ability to run, yet the reality is protective footwear are merely an injury delivery system as well as a profit stabilizer.

Quick Facts on Cushioned Running Shoes:

  • stability declined when softer materials were placed under the plantar surface (Pyykko et al.)
  • no commercially available cushioned running shoe has been found to closely approximate the impact-reduction mechanism used by habitual barefoot runners (Robbins and Gouw)
  • runners unknowingly generated higher levels of impact in cushioned running shoes (American Society of Testing and Materials)
  • cushioned running shoes caused subjects to underestimate plantar loads when they sense these loads precisely when barefoot ( Robbins et al.)
  • wearers of running shoes with ‘pronation’ control and other stability features injured more frequently than wearers of cheaper, basic running shoes (Marti)
  • neutral running shoes increased both knee torque by 37% and hip internal rotation by 57% compared to barefoot runners (kerrigan et al.)

It is statistically unlikely that runners who wear the standard running shoe will have a reduction in persistent injuries given the low prevalence of running-related injuries in habitual barefoot runners. Not only that, minor injuries, common to habitual shod runners, may progress into a more serious condition such as a fracture or osteoarthritis.

Robbins and Gouw reported that most running-related injuries in habitual shod runners are the result of the suboptimally high shock setting of the modern running shoe coupled with the disturbance in plantar sensations. Taken together, the standard running shoe hinders the capacity of the body to reflexively minimize impact during running and misdirects a runner to strike the ground heel first.

More From Run Forefoot:


American Society for Testing and Materials. Standard test method for rubber property-durometer hardness. In: Annual book of ASTM standards. Philadelphia: ASTM Publishers, 1988 (09.01):596-600.

Fang F and Casadevall, A. Why We Cheat. In: Scientific American MIND. May/June,2013. pp. 32-37.

Kerrigan et al. (2009). The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques. PM&R 12, 1058-1063.

Marti, B. Relationship between running injuries and running shoes: In:The Shoe in Sport, W.Pforringer and B. Segesser (Eds.) Chicago: Yearbook Medical Publishers, 1989, pp. 256-65.

Mcnitt-Gray JL. Landing strategy adjustments made by female gymnasts in response to drop height and mat composition. J Appl Biomech 1993;9:173-90.

Pyykko I, Jantti P, Aalto H. Postural control in elderly subjects. Age Ageing 1990; 19:215-21.

Robbins SE and Gouw GJ. Athletic footwear and chronic overloading: a brief review. Sports Med, 1990; 9(2):76-85.

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Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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