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Published on August 17, 2015

Buying new running shoes? Let comfort be your guide

Buying new running shoes? Let comfort be your guide

Thousands of runners filled the streets on Sunday, Aug. 16, aiming for the finish line of the Falmouth Road Race.

Running is the simplest of sports – just keep putting one foot in front of the other. The equipment is simple, too. All you really need is a decent pair of running shoes.

But if you’ve ever looked at a wall of shoes in a running store, you know that deciding on a pair can be far from easy.

Manufacturers tout special features, like impact absorption and pronation control, or weigh the benefits of flexibility vs. stability. But in the end, maybe the decision really is simple. Just pick the shoe that feels most comfortable.

That’s the conclusion of a new scientific review published recently in The British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The review’s lead author, Dr. Benno Nigg, an expert on biomechanics, wanted to test the idea that shoes can decrease injuries by helping to fix a runner’s form, according to a New York Times report.

The conclusion: Controlling how much the foot pronates, or rolls inward, can cause injuries rather than prevent them.

“Similarly, they found little evidence that forcefully striking the ground causes injuries or that changing or removing your shoes alters those impacts much,” the Times reported.

And in a study of soldiers undergoing fitness training, it turned out that attempting to choose shoes to “fix” someone’s form led to more injuries than giving them random shoes.

But as the Times reported, “soldiers wearing the shoes fitted with inserts that felt comfortable to them had a much lower incidence of injury than those wearing standard shoes.”

Dr. Nigg, an emeritus professor of kinesiology at the University of Calgary in Canada, told the Times that people are “very good judges” of their body’s motion. “People can usually tell right away which shoe feels the most comfortable. That is the one to choose.”

Kevin Petrovek, owner of Hanlon Shoes in Hyannis, said he urges his customers try on four or five pairs of running shoes.

“You can’t read about a shoe and pick the best one. If it feels right, it’s right,” said Petrovek, who has finished the Boston Marathon 41 years in a row.

“Life one foot and stand on the other. If you feel nice and stable, that’s the shoe for you.”

Danny O’Keefe, head athletic trainer and wellness program coordinator at Cape Cod Healthcare, agreed. “Our bodies are the best judge of what they need,” he said.

“Most times if something does not feel right, it will cause an injury over time. This is particularly true with activities of a repetitive nature, such as running.”

And despite the review’s findings, O’Keefe said it’s still worth seeing an expert when injuries occur.

“The body is a system of mobile joints and stable segments all relying on each other to function properly,” he said. “The best course of action would be to have a proper gait analysis done and pick a shoe or insert that meets your needs for pronation, arch support and comfort.”