Expensive versus Cheap Running Shoes
“Do you get value for money when you buy an expensive pair of running shoes? Read on and find out!”
An investigation of the Institute of Motion Analysis and Research, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee (Clinghan RT, Arnold GP, Drew TS, Cochrane L, Abboud RJ, Br J Sports Med. Published Online First: 11 October 2007. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2007.038844) aimed to determine if more expensive running shoes provide better cushioning of plantar pressure and are more comfortable than low-cost alternatives from the same brand.
Design: Three pairs of running shoes were purchased from three different manufacturers at three different price ranges: low (£40-45), medium (£60-65) and high (£70-75). Plantar pressure was recorded with the Pedar® in-shoe pressure measurement system. Comfort was assessed with a 100 mm visual analogue scale. A follow-on study was conducted to ascertain if shoe cushioning and comfort were comparable to walking while running on a treadmill.
Participants: Forty-three female and twelve male subjects participated in the main and follow-on studies respectively.
Main Outcome Measure: Evaluation of plantar pressure and comfort.
Results: Plantar pressure measurements were recorded from under the heel, across the forefoot and under the great toe. Differences in plantar pressure were recorded between models and between brands in relation to cost. Shoe performance was comparable between walking and running trials on a treadmill. No significant difference was observed between shoes and test occasions in terms of comfort.
Conclusions: Low and medium cost running shoes in each of the three brands tested provided the same (if not better) cushioning of plantar pressure as high-cost running shoes. Cushioning was comparable when walking and running on a treadmill. Comfort is a subjective sensation based on individual preferences and was not related to either the distribution of plantar pressure or cost.
No significant difference was found between each type of shoe and each brand. Whilst differences did exist between different areas of each shoe/brand, this was not a consistent picture in that the site of the differences varied between shoes; perhaps not surprising as the different brands may have different aims when determining where to position the cushioning. The authors do report that, whilst there was no statistical difference between the shoes, there was a trend to the low cost shoe demonstrating more cushioning. To the delight of the media, this non statistical finding has been termed ‘if not better’. Whilst the authors postulate that this subtle difference may be more significant over time with repetitive impact loading, the reverse may also be true. More research is required, a point acknowledged in the paper.
It is perhaps not surprising that the authors decided to analyse the pressure values alone, rather than any level of functional control as the former variable is more discreet and easier to quantify for research purposes. In the introduction/review of the literature, they report:
1. That better cushioning materials in more expensive shoes attenuate impact force to a greater extent than less expensive alternatives,
2. That it has been suggested that the protective devices advertised are deceptive and runners subconsciously subject themselves to greater impact forces, increasing the risk of injuries,
3. That this is supported by a 123% greater injury frequency observed in runners training with expensive running shoes compared to less expensive models/brands.
Given that the authors go on to postulate that the subtle improvement in cushioning may be more significant over time, it is not clear from the paper whether this would be a good or bad feature.
Of course, other factors should also be considered when determining the benefit of any shoe and these include:
– The density (termed durometer) of the material will have a profound effect. A low durometer may provide greater cushioning but may not be sufficient for a heavier runner. Similarly, the durability of the low durometer material may be much less, requiring renewal of the shoe more rapidly.
– There is no data relating to the weight of the subjects or the durometer of the material between the varying shoes. It is quite possible that this varies arbitrarily between models and brands.
– The positioning of the cushioning may be important in injury protection and, based on this paper, this seems to be more brand than expense related.
– Many running shoes have features designed to help control foot function depending upon the individual foot type. These features may not relate directly to cushioning, indeed the opposite may be true if the aim is to resist excessive motion. Many stability/motion control shoes have a higher durometer material on the inside of the shoe which is claimed to resist pronation. Thus, the nature of the individuals foot function is an important factor. In this study, there had been no history of lower limb pathology and no gait abnormality although the criteria for the latter were not detailed.
As previously mentioned, this is a well constructed study and the authors acknowledge the need to study a greater number of shoes. They have presented the data well although some of the terminology they have used has been seized upon by the media. What they have highlighted is that the price of the shoe alone is not necessarily the important factor. In my experience, when considering shoes for function:
– Shoes under £60 generally have less support/durability.
– Shoes between £60 and £100 are generally more supportive/durable and worth the additional investment 3. Shoes significantly greater than £100 rarely have the additional technology to justify the increased price tag.