You could be forgiven for being flummoxed when you venture into a sports store to buy an appropriate pair of running shoes.
Faced with more than a dozen brands and literally hundreds of choices, it’s easy to be totally overwhelmed and confused.
Many running injuries are related to incorrect running shoe choice, so informed choice is vital. This was one of the reasons why professors Martin Schwellnus and Wayne Derman developed a more scientific approach to sports shoe choice, wherein one matches the biomechanical characteristics of the athlete with the appropriate sports shoe. It is known as the Sports Shoe Injury Prevention System (SSIPS) and it is offered at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA).
The SSIPS procedure
Firstly, the investigator takes a “running history” of the individual to obtain a profile. They are asked how long they have been running for, whether they are a recreational or serious runner, their average weekly mileage, their preferred running terrain and other similar questions.
Then the biomechanics of the lower limb are assessed. Initially, the athlete’s type of foot is recorded (i.e. high-arched, flat footed or normal); thereafter the alignment of the forefoot and rearfoot is evaluated to see if the individual pronates (in the forefoot or rearfoot), excessively. Knee alignment is then assessed to see if the athlete has knock knees or is bow-legged; and finally the flexibility of both the calf and hamstring muscles is measured. All of these factors influence foot strike and alignment and are therefore going to influence what type of sports shoe characteristics one is looking for.
The running style (gait) of the athlete is obviously also crucial. For each assessment, a score is recorded and the total score is important in determining what type of sports shoe the individual will require. The higher the score, the greater the degree of pronation and the more likely it is that the athlete will need an anti-pronation shoe.
The investigator then takes an “injury history” of the runner as well as the treatment procedures followed in each case. The running shoes worn over the past year are also discussed and any links with injuries are noted. The wearing patterns of the running shoes are closely assessed.
Whereas a person with a “low score” from this testing system might well be advised to purchase a neutral shoe, those with higher scores would be advised to go for stability shoes. Motion control shoes are at the top end of the scale for those with the highest scores. Another factor that influences the investigator’s shoe choice for the athlete, is their average mileage. Obviously ultra-distance runners are more likely to fatigue and “lose form” towards the end of long races, necessitating greater stabilisation features in their shoes. Finally, for heavier individuals, more stability in running shoes is recommended.
Individuals are usually given about three options of running shoes to choose from, because fit and comfort are so important and only the athlete can determine what “feels” best. At the sports shop, the athlete is advised to walk or run around in each of the choices to assess what fits best and is most comfortable.
For further information, or to make a booking for a SSIPS assessment, contact the Sports Medicine Division at SSISA, (021) 659 5644.
(Kathleen McQuaide, Sports Scientist, for Health24)