A growing body of evidence indicates that cushioned running shoes cause a proprioceptive disorder that results in joint obliteration and biomechanical impairments.
The shock absorbing material of shoe cushioning blocks sensory traffic from reaching the pain/pressure receptors in the soles of the feet. The consequence: impaired somatosensory feedback in the ankle and knee joints, which is a form of defective proprioception (impaired somatosensory feedback is strongly associated with almost complete joint obliteration).
Cushioned Running Shoes Cause Proprioceptive Disorder
As for biomechanical impairments, another consequence of the proprioception disorder induced by the cushioned running shoe is a heel strike landing during running.
The heel-height of the traditional running shoe alters ankle kinematics thereby changing landing behavior from the natural forefoot strike to a heel strike landing. The cushioned material under the heel masks the feel of the heel strike-impact, but does not reduce or prevent the heel strike-transient.
Heel strike running, the predominate running style in runners who prefer thick heeled running shoes, may cause ankle sprains by increasing leverage on the ankle joint which in turn, increases loading.
Heel striking running also increases ground contact time which may increase the likelihood of undesirable movements around the ankle joint as the body rolls over the heel, over the arch, and on the toes.
It has been said that running in thick heeled running shoes is similar to running in a high-heeled women’s fashion shoe. Now you can understand how ankle stability would be compromised if running in this type of shoe.
Less Cushioning Equals Safer Running?
The more cushioning in a shoe, the harder it is for the central nervous system (CNS) to perceive foot strike (proprioception):
- our feet have an abundance of sensory receptors that report sensory information to the CNS to adjust leg stiffness, knee, and hip flexion in response to different surface types when running.
- if sensory input is blocked from the feet, foot-placement awareness becomes a challenge and the runner becomes less sturdy, especially in the ankles.
Humans Evolved to Run without Wearing Protective Footwear
It is believed that early humans ran barefoot, or in minimal footwear such as moccasins, for millions of years and never had problems with shin splints, runners knee, or ankle sprains. Running injuries were virtually unheard of.
In the 1970’s, the architecture of the running shoe may have changed for the worse as stability elements and ridiculous quantities of cushioning were added, yet injury rates remain unacceptably high.
Consequently, the spike in running-related injuries has given running a bad reputation for being known as one of the most injurious forms of physical activity.
The Take Home Message
To date, no conclusive evidence proves that thick cushioned footwear prevents any running-related injuries.
Our natural foot strength is most likely grossly underestimated when in fact, our feet are stronger than we think.
If we run properly, in the same way as our ancestors, perhaps injury rates would drop along with the apprehension people have on running.
More From Run Forefoot:
Why Barefoot Running Feels Awkward at First
What Alters a Runner’s Foot Strike Pattern?
Toe Running Alleviates Lumbar Pain
Quick Energy Before a Long Morning Run
Barefoot Running From The Experts
Lohman et al. (2011). A comparison of the spatiotemporal parameters, kinematics, and biomechanics between shod, unshod, and minimally supported running as compared to walking.
Robbins, SE and Hanna, AM. Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations. Med Sci Sport Exers, 1987; 19(2):148-56.
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.