Key Insights On Recommending Running Shoes

Author(s): 
By Peter Wilusz, DPM

   Believe it or not, the running shoe first originated as a leather upper with a leather sole. Adidas running shoes date back to the late 1800s but many of the technical advancements did not begin to appear until the 1970s. In 1971, Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight created a shoe manufacturing company called Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), which eventually became Nike, Inc.

   While he was coaching track and field at the University of Oregon, Bowerman created the first cushioned midsole by heating polyurethane on his wife’s waffle iron in his garage. What followed was an enormous amount of research and development that led to the creation of Nike Air and many more technical components that are incorporated into today’s running shoes. As the manufacturers have improved shoes, they discovered a greater understanding of biomechanical deficiencies, such as excessive pronation, that are inherent in the foot. By the early 1980s, manufacturers were modifying the midsole portion of shoes to control abnormal pronation. Today, there are many adjunctive components of shoes that help improve function for most runners with pronated foot types.

   I spent 11 years operating a technical running shoe store that catered to runners with special needs. In my experience, many people discovered through trial and error that the type of shoe they used created major exercise-related injuries (shin splints, stress fractures, etc.). We found that most people were wearing the wrong style of shoe for their foot and running style.

   For example, a runner with a stable foot type maintained a 40 miles-per-week schedule. He bought shoes he read about in a running shoe magazine without researching the features. The shoe was made for a pronated foot type. The athlete didn’t have this foot type and subsequently had significant pain within four weeks of using the shoe. Given the technical aspects of shoe construction today, it is easy for a runner to end up in a shoe that can cause harm.

A Review Of Running Shoe Lasts

   When it comes to running shoe construction, all shoes are constructed from a last. Generally, running shoes have a straight last, modified last or a curve last.

   Straight lasted shoes have more material maintaining support beneath the medial column of the foot. These shoes are recommended for the severe, overpronated foot type.

   Modified last shoes are built with a shape that is neither straight nor curved but in between the two shapes. This last is the most common type of shape one will see with running shoes. These type of shoes may or may not have adjunctive components built into the midsole for motion control.

   One would primarily reserve curved lasted shoes for racing flat shoes as they provide an optimal level of lightweight material but lack stability. The rare foot type that underpronates would benefit from a curved lasted shoe, provided the shoe has the desired level of cushioning.

Understanding The Key Components Of Running Shoes

   The three main components of a running shoe are the upper, the midsole and the outer sole. The upper materials are mostly comprised of lightweight synthetic materials with a focus on breathability. While the structure of the upper may vary from shoe to shoe, there is very little difference among different brands with the exception of off-road or “trail” shoes, which have more durable, reinforced upper material.

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