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Shoes: Function or Fashion

“Are my shoes cute?”  A question you may have asked yourself, or have been asked by someone else. Or possibly you have pondered the questions, “What is the best shoe for me?” or “What type of shoe should I wear?”  Although I think these last two questions are valid and are more pertinent to this article than the question, “Are my shoes cute?” I think the latter question may need to be re-phrased. The question more appropriately should be, “What type of shoe shouldn’t I wear?”

There are likely multiple shoes out there that will do well for a particular runner. As you are aware we are all unique individuals, including our feet and running gait. Shoe companies have had a big impact on what a runner will choose to wear for their running shoe; the newest model, the cutest patterns or colors, the type of shoe for your foot type, what the current fastest professional is wearing, etc.  Through the years you have probably seen changes in shoes, and some shoes have had drastic differences. On one side you have the extra thick Hoka and on the other side you have the thin Vibram five finger shoe (or even no shoe at all). The scope of this article is to talk about different aspects to consider when choosing a running shoe and how to use your shoes to your advantage.

The reason for a cushioned heel:

To fully understand the reason shoe companies started to make a cushioned heel we need to talk for a minute about the ground reaction force. This is the force or impact that we attenuate when we hit the ground during running.  Newton’s third law summarized states that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” When running we hit the ground with our foot creating a force to the ground, but the ground also sends a force back matching the impact. This returned impact does not just disappear but has to go somewhere. It travels from the foot and up through the joints and muscles of our body. Our joints and muscles have to absorb this force and work to move forward through it.

Multiple studies have shown that the majority of recreational runners use a heel striking pattern.  In these studies the percent of participants that were heel strikers had a reported range from 65% up to 90%. 1,2,3  That is the majority of the recreational runners! The shoe companies, having knowledge of this information, wanted to try and minimize the force/impact obtained. They did this by putting a thicker cushion on the heel to help disperse the force. Depicted in figure 1 see the potential decrease in impact peak made with a cushioned heel running shoe.  The shoe companies were successful, and met their purpose in reducing the initial load.

You may be thinking to yourself that “I am not a heel striker, so that does not affect me” but don’t get too comfortable. A study by Goss et al concluded that “runners often cannot report their foot-strike patterns accurately.” 1  I can attest to this fact when I do running analyses in the clinic – people are often surprised at what their striking pattern actually is.  You may think you are a forefoot striker, but may really be a heel striker. This is something to consider for one who naturally runs with a heel strike pattern and then uses a minimalist shoe. Keeping the same heel strike pattern but now removing the cushioned heel can potentially increase the amount of impact required for the body to absorb.

Decreasing impact without a cushioned heel:

Another method proposed to decrease impact during running is to change the type of foot strike pattern with which the runner strikes the ground. The thought is that by shifting from a heel strike pattern and moving toward a pattern less on the heel can help decrease the impact.  The shoe companies again have responded and made shoes to meet the new trend.

Theories have been proposed that if a natural heel striking runner using a traditional shoe changes to a minimalist shoe their striking pattern should also change. Willson et al wanted to put that theory to the test and see if changing shoes in a runner would actually alter the striking pattern. After the new shoes were given to the runners and with two weeks of training in the new minimalist shoes they found no difference in the proportion of those runners who ran with a rear foot striking pattern. However they did find that those who continued to run with a rear foot strike pattern in the minimalist shoes experienced increased loading rates. 4

Choosing a shoe based on foot type:

Another avenue shoe companies have tried to appeal to the runner is to provide multiple types of shoes (ie: motion control, stability shoe, neutral shoe, minimalist shoe, etc.) to accommodate the different type of arches (ie: high, neutral, low).  It is a common practice for runners to choose a shoe based on their “foot type.” Knapik et al wanted to see if choosing a shoe based on foot type was a valid way to help prevent injuries, and conducted a study with over 1000 participants to help assess this shoe assigning method. He had a group of recruits from the Marine Corps and assigned certain shoes to each recruit based on their foot type; for a control there was a second group who was assigned the same stability shoe regardless of their foot type. He found “that assigning shoes based on the shape of the plantar foot surface had little influence on injuries even after considering other injury risk factors.” 5

I want to make it clear that my purpose in writing this article is not to discourage runners from buying shoes based on foot type, but to make it clear that buying a particular kind of shoe for your particular foot type has not been shown to decrease injury. When considering a new shoe a good starting place may be to choose shoes that were made for your certain foot, but in the end you need to make sure you have a shoe that feels good to you when running in it.

Alternating shoes:

Injury prevention is always an important subject a runner should consider, however there is little to no evidence to support a certain type of shoe being the answer for injury prevention for all runners.  However a study by Malisoux et al may have some promise with regards to injury prevention for runners and their shoes. In this study they had recreational runners participate in a 22-week study where they reported all information about their running session characteristics, other sport participation and injuries. They found that the runners using more than one pair of shoes throughout the study had a lower risk of running related injuries. 6 This is good news for runners, because who doesn’t like more pairs of running shoes? The study noted that multiple participants in the study who used multiple shoes for their training had one shoe they used most often (58% of the time on average), but had other shoes they would also use at times on different occasions. The authors speculate, using their findings in this study and findings of other studies, why this effect may be stating: “the concomitant use of different pairs of running shoes will provide alternation in the running pattern and vary external and active forces on the lower legs during running activity.” 6 Meaning that the different shoes may be altering the gait pattern or muscles used while running just enough to give certain running muscles, or forces to a joint, a needed break from the repetitive load they may experience if using the same shoe over and over again.


  • There is no proven specific shoe or even type of shoe that can be used for injury prevention.
  • Just by changing to a lower drop (more minimalist) shoe does not mean that transfers over to a change in running form.
  • Using a couple of different pairs of shoes during your training may help to decrease the risk of injury.
  • If you are running and are not having issues don’t feel like you need to change your shoes because of your foot type, striking pattern, or any other reason.  

Most importantly, “Set your goals high because what a person accomplishes is in proportion to what they attempt.” -Mitchell Naufell



  1. Goss DL, Lewek M, Yu B, Ware WB, Teyhen DS, Gross MT. Lower Extremity Biomechanics and Self-Reported Foot-Strike Patterns Among Runners in Traditional and Minimalist Shoes. J Athl Train. 2015 Feb 19.
  2. Larson P, Higgins E, Kaminski J, Decker T, Preble J, Lyons D, McIntyre K, Normile A. Foot strike patterns of recreational and sub-elite runners in a long-distance road race. J Sports Sci. 2011 Dec;29(15):1665-73.
  3. de Almeida MO, Saragiotto BT, Yamato TP, Lopes AD. Is the rearfoot pattern the most frequently foot strike pattern among recreational shod distance runners? Phys Ther Sport. 2015 Feb;16(1):29-33.
  4. Willson JD, Bjorhus JS, Williams DSB, Butler RJ, Porcari JP, Kernozek TW. Short-Term Changes in Running Mechanics and Foot Strike Pattern After Introduction to Minimalistic Footwear. PM R. 2014;6(1):34-43.
  5. Knapik JJ, Trone DW, Swedler DI, Villasenor A, Bullock SH, Schmied E, Bockelman T, Han P, Jones BH. Injury reduction effectiveness of assigning running shoes based on plantar shape in Marine Corps basic training. Am J Sports Med. 2010 Sep;38(9):1759-67.
  6. Malisoux L, Ramesh J, Mann R, Seil R, Urhausen a., Theisen D. Can parallel use of different running shoes decrease running-related injury risk? Scand J Med Sci Sport. 2013:1-6.

JEREMY STOKER – Physical Therapist, DPT – Runner

Jeremy is excited to be a part of the Utahrunning.com team. His passion for running started when he was 15 years old as he ran his first marathon. He has continued to enjoy running, and has enjoyed seeing his times improve. He graduated with both his bachelors of science in medicine and his doctorate of physical therapy from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He has two kids and a wife, who also enjoys running, so he finds it tricky to continue to fit running in during a busy schedule – but enjoys the challenge. He currently practices as a physical therapist for Mountain Land Physical Therapy, in the Kaysville office. As a runner himself and with his physical therapy experience Jeremy is an expert at analyzing running injuries, performing video gait analysis, and is armed with tools to help runners do what we we love to do — run! He finds joy in helping beginners catch the fire of running. He is eager to help in any way he can and hopes to help others catch the running bug or, for those who have already caught it, to continue and love it even more.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 at 12:45 pm and is filed under Injuries and Pain, Injury Prevention, Running Shoes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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