In the book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall makes the observation that running injuries have not reduced in frequency over the past 30 years despite the perceived technical advances in athletic footwear over this same period of time. He suggests that runners have been ripped off by the hype and false claims made by running shoe manufacturers.
While this assertion is partly true (overall running injury rates have not changed much in 30 years), the assumption that footwear has not improved the life of the runner is false.
Comparing injury rates in runners today to runners 30 years ago is a non-scientific analysis simply because the patient populations are vastly different. Thirty years ago, few women ran marathons and the overall running population was much smaller than it is today. Today’s runners include far more people who are really not suited for running at all.
I am amazed to see so many people who are overweight and non-athletic embark on a marathon training program and succeed today. Much of this success can be attributed to the advances in footwear I have observed in 28 years of clinical practice. Today’s running shoes are more supportive, better cushioned and more durable than shoes made 30 years ago.
Without question, the more common injuries I treated 28 years ago —medial tibial stress syndrome and patellofemoral pain syndrome — are far less common today. I can only attribute this change to the improvements in footwear.
I would be anxious to hear from other readers who have been in practice for 20-plus years to learn if they have similar observations about changes in running injuries during this time period. Feel free to post your comments below.