Why aren't running shoes preventing injuries?
The Atlantic recently published an article entitled Why Aren't Running Shoes Preventing Running Injuries? The article looked at the sport of running, running injuries and describes how shoes just simply haven't benefited runners in the way that we might think. Although we're lead to believe that the science behind shoe manufacturing and testing has evolved to make a better shoe, it seems that the rate of injuries in runners has stayed at a consistent level in spite of these advances. If that's the case, then what's all the buzz about with a Hoka One One or a Nike Air?
I think it all has to do with runners. Runners are a very interesting group of people. I'm not going to call them athletes because in most cases, recreational runners are simply goal-oriented folks who are active. An athlete, on the other hand, was that one kid in your high school class who won every sporting event. Remember when you tried out for football and that one kid was the star running back? And in the spring you signed up for track and that same kid won the 100, 220 and 440 races. He's an athlete. The rest of us (myself included) are just having fun.
Runners are very goal-oriented. And to a great degree, a runner's self-esteem is tied to the ability to reach those goals. Although they may not be the fastest in their class, their ability to reach their goals enables them to be a part of that circle of folks called athletes. So what's a runner going to do to reach that level? A lot. And they'll continue to work at it to stay in that circle of athletes even if it means injuring themselves, battling ongoing injuries or even having surgery to continue in their sport.
And that brings us back to shoes. Any committed runner is going to be all over the latest shoe design. It's their tool. It's what will keep them in the circle of athletes. So a new twist to a shoe design or a new bit of gait analysis from a shoe company is big news to a runner - unless you're a barefoot runner, but that's a whole different story.
My take-home point from The Atlantic article is that shoe companies seem to have created a market. It's an old business technique. The Wilkinson Sword Company created an entirely new market in the late 19th century when they convinced women that they needed to have smooth legs. And the same holds true for how the underarm antiperspirant industry evolved. We certainly couldn't have women who perspired.
The point is this - even though Nike made false claims about their Five Finger Shoes, they came clean in court. It's time that the shoe industry comes up with some real science that backs their products. Real claims based upon research. And you know, it might be very easy to do. In this Internet-based world we live in, companies need to realize the value of their customers as advocates for their products and willing partners in testing products. Involve your customers in your testing and you'll earn their respect - especially if those customers are runners.
Jeffrey A. Oster, DPM