Sunday, April 27, 2008

Is the modern distance running shoe evidence based?

A scientific mind should challenge my statement that there is no evidence that modern running shoes either prevent injuries or improve performance. To fail to do so merely replaces one unfounded dogmatic belief with yet another.

How then can I back up my claim there there is no evidence that modern distance running shoes provide any benefit to the wearer?

To do so requires a systematic examination of the published scientific literature. This is done by searching electronic databases which catalogue all the studies published on particular topics. If no studies are identified via this process then you can confidently make the claim that no evidence has been published.

With two colleagues from the University of Newcastle, I have recently published such a systematic review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

We searched for studies which compared adult runners running in modern running shoes (elevated cushioned heel and pronation control features tailored to foot type) with those running in either bare feet or other running shoe types. We restricted our searches to studies which measured the impact of wearing these shoes on a real world outcome such as distance running performance, musculoskeletal injury rates, osteoarthritis risk, enjoyment of running or overall health and quality of life.

We failed to find a single published study.

This means that either 1)the studies have not been done or 2)their results have been suppressed because they show that modern running shoes are either of no benefit or are in fact harmful. Only the shoe manufacturers know which of these is true.

We can only hope that an entire generation of runners have not been the unwitting victims of unethical corporate behaviour.

We have consistently seen how large corporations behave when their profits are threatened by the truth. Big Tobacco, the pharmaceutical industry and asbestos manufacturers come to mind as poignant examples.

Will the multinationals who perpetuate and feed on the myth of the modern running shoe be next?