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Rethinking the Shoe Selection Process

Posted Aug 19 2010 9:22pm
In the aftermath of the recent running shoe controversy (as I've documented here ) I have been thinking a lot about runners and shoes. Like many others, I'm disturbed by the mounting evidence suggesting that the traditional method of matching shoe to runner based on foot type and arch height is not only wrong but probably injurious. Since the large majority of runners currently train and run in shoes that were prescribed to them at one point in time by a salesperson at a running store utilizing this conventional system of shoe selection, I wonder if there can be many who feel completely confident and safe in their shoes right now. Even if you've worn the same running shoes for many years (even decades perhaps) and suffered no ill effects, how do you know that there isn't another model/brand/type of shoe that would fit you better, enhance your running or prevent injury better than your current shoe? As consumers, faced with the plethora of misinformation, unproven theories, and annectodal evidence out in the various forms of popular media, how does one go about figuring all of this out?

Personally, I find the entire shoe selection process simply overwhelming and extremely problematic. To think I actually have a medical science background and enjoy reading and talking about shoes. So what about the newbie or the average runner who may not be as knowledgeable or share the same degree of running shoe fetish as I? Are they then doomed to the whim of the shoe salesperson at the running store and more than likely end up in a shoe that is not ideal or appropriate for them? This is so wrong on so many levels.

I think the average runner should be left out of this process entirely. I think the entire shoe selection process should be modified to involve specialists whose job it is to understand the dynamics of each specific shoe and figure out the foot and gait that it is designed to fit. Perhaps the task should involve two or three specialists similar to the way corrective lenses are prescribed for different visual abnormalities. There can be a primary doctor (likely a podiatrist) who would perform a general examination of the foot noting anatomical dimensions and structural defects that may warrant a particular type of shoe. Then there can be a second specialist who performs a gait analysis to determine your particular style of running and the functional nuances of your foot. Finally the information is passed to a salesperson who picks out the appropriate models of shoes for you to choose from. Yes, this entire process seems a bit cumbersome and potentially expensive but if a significant portion of the running community is already wearing the wrong shoes that will inevitably lead to injury, doesn't this mean that the science of shoes and feet is too complicated for the average person to understand and apply? After all, if it requires an ophthalmologist, an optometrist and an optician to help one nearsighted or farsighted individual find an appropriate set of glasses (or contacts), why should selecting appropriate running shoes for runners be any different?
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