The best running shoes to avoid pain
We have all been on a run, and afterward felt a bit sore. But at what point does this change from normal to something that requires attention, to avoid ongoing problems? What are the best running shoes to help deal with this problem?
Feet are incredible parts of the body. The shock absorption, balance, and efficiency of your feet in astounding. Interestingly, how the feet work is not as well understood as you might think.
And the solution to leg pain is probably is probably simpler than you think.
Why Do Shoes Cause Pain?
Feet are an incredibly complex body part, in combination with the ankle, knees, hips, core, and back. They perform an incredibly complex function for shock absorption.
We used to run before people had running shoes, and even before we had shoes at all. How did we manage to run? Could this help us to understand the right running shoes for long-distance, especially when running causes pain?
Feet are very intricate. The arch for example is an incredible example of suspension. The arch flexes when we land on the foot, to absorb some of the impact with the ground.
If you were to run barefoot, the foot would roll from the outer edge of the foot inwards. This movement is a sort of “suspension system” (similar to supination). The bio-mechanics of the body are self-tuned to the state of the joints, muscles and so on.
If a system is out of balance, the body self-adjusts. That adjustment will result in different muscles being used, which may cause discomfort or pain.
The self-adjusting nature of the body may mean that a muscle or joint has extra force applied to it. This extra force will mean the muscle may get exhausted quicker. The exhausted muscle will then take longer to recover. This can lead to injury, soreness and pain.
Do Orthotic Insoles help?
Not a lot is known about how a shoe should support a person to improve their kinematics. Kinematics is how the skeleton reacts to movement. It is known that two identical orthotic inserts for different people will have different results. The evidence is showing that they have little effect on kinematics. The changes that result are often shifting work from one set of muscles and/or joints to different ones.
Shoes may contribute to this unbalancing of the bio-mechanical systems. These systems may be “reset” by orthotics. Instead why not look for shoes that do not unbalance your bio-mechanical systems?
Orthotics have been shown in studies to not really correct the problems, but to cause a weakening of the muscles. The orthotics make the body use other muscles, which means the one previously being used may be used less.
Running Shoe Arch Support
Arch support can prevent the arch from working as intended. That support makes the foot weaker, so it is unable to perform that feature. The insole of a shoe may keep the foot in place. Because the foot is held in place, the toes do not have room to move or the need to.
If the toes cannot spread out, they cannot as easily assist with balancing. They also do not have the ability to reduce the maximum force on the foot. The spreading of the toes will work with the arch to stabilize, and support.
If you already have existing issues or pain, you may need to deal with these symptoms differently.
An interesting thing happens when you have less of a drop on your show (not necessarily less cushioning either) There is a greater distance from when the front part of your foot hits the ground, and the heel does in shoes with a smaller drop.
What this does is it allows the muscles in the back of the leg to be stretched more than those with a greater drop. This could be the difference between finishing a run and your calves / achilles being sore, and recovering quickly to being pain free.
I have a pair of runners that are highly cushioned, and I bought for long distance runs, to reduce wear and tear. These have an 8mm drop. If I run too long in these my calves, and achilles tendon get tight, and I can’t get rid of it with stretching.
If I move to what I consider the best running shoe for speed, these also have a 5mm drop, and I can finish the same run without tight calves, and tight achilles. I do notice the stretch as I warm up, then the discomfort disappears. To I rotate between the shoes.
I also have some trail shoes with a 4mm drop, and almost zero cushion in them. They are even more effective as “resetting” by feet and legs. I believe this to be because they are quite a minimal shoe, quite close to barefoot running.
A drop is the difference between the height of the heel and toe.
If your running style has you hitting the ground heal first, the drop may have a smaller, or no benefit for you. The greater stretch should still be present although.
Best running shoes for back pain
Up 80% of people will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives.
Choosing the wrong shoes is a major contributor.
Orthotics can be used to re-align the feet and ankles.
This can help the back pain, but it is a temporary solution.
Shoes that align the feet in such a way as to put more force through the back will cause pain.
This may be caused by making you lean forward. This will cause the muscles in the back to be used more.
That situation could be caused by a heel that is higher than your toe(“the drop”) of the shoe.
This effect would be seen in high heeled dressed shoes, which I trust you are not using for training!
For a running shoe, anything over a toe to heel drop of 7mm would be considered something with greater padding. Greater padding means a greater lean forward in addition to less pressure on your Achilles tendon to perform the job of shock absorption.
I know previously I said that the smaller drop stretches the achilles, but what a great drop does, is requires less effort from the achilles. In fact the calves and hamstrings will probably be used less as well.
If you’re training to be a faster runner, it may benefit you to make your legs muscles work harder, and get stronger, and stretch them at the same time. If so, look for a running shoe with a smaller drop (5mm or less).
Running Form – Heel Striking
Greater padding is required for people who heel strike – depending upon how much you heel strike (shown above). A heel strike is when the first part of your body that hits the ground during a run is your heel. The more forward your foot is in front of the body, the greater the heel strike. This is also known as an overstride.
Heel striking isn’t good or bad. It just puts a different pressure on the body. Your heel does not have shock absorption, so if you were to strike hard, and had no padding in the shoes, it would hurt. This would be where greater padding may be required. Or a change of running form, to a mid-foot strike.
Heel striking can be useful on endurance runs (marathon or more) if you have a short stride, the heel or midfoot strike will use less calf muscle (which may not be capable of shock absorption)
Running Form – Mid foot Striking
Mid foot striking is when either the toe lands first, and the foot rolls with the heel eventually touching the ground, or, the foot plants down flat on the ground with all of the foot at once.
If the toe is first, there is likely to be more shock absorption than if the whole of the foot plants down at the same time.
The downside to the toe striking first is that it requires more effort by the Achilles tendon and calf muscle, to gently roll the foot onto the heel.
This running strike will require a lot less cushioned sole than a heel strike.
Running Form – Forefoot Striking
There is also a forefoot strike, where the runner runs on their toes, and the heel never touches down or only “kisses” the ground at the end of the motion. This would have the greatest amount of shock absorption, but also the greatest pressure on the muscles of the foot, and leg.
This also means it requires the least amount of cushioning in a training shoe.
If the runner is a long distance runner, as they get more tired, so the strike will more likely move toward a heel striking motion (as mentioned above). This is because it requires less effort from the muscles of the foot and leg.
If you did want to try to do away with cushioning in your running shoes, you should train your feet and legs to be strong enough to cope with such extra strain.
And you should build up very slowly – you can fracture your bones in your feet or cause some pretty uncomfortable muscular injuries too.
It can be very worthwhile doing, as you will likely be able to endure greater distances with less pain, the stronger that you get.
As for training shoes – high heel to toe drop for heel strikers, and much more reduced for mid and forefoot.
If you want to really improve your foot and leg strength. You can also try minimalist running shoes.
Go very carefully if you do try it, but the feeling is incredible.
Don’t be surprised if this is very hard to do initially. Makes your feet and legs ache in different places.
When I said go slowly, I really mean it. If you’re feeling sore or tired as you run barefoot, don’t be tempted to do the extra distance. Until your muscles are strong enough, you’re more likely to injure yourself, than to build strength like that.
Please don’t let that put you off – it’s an awesome feeling when you do get the strength. Like floating. Everything is in tune.
The best running shoes for knee pain
The knee joint connects the bones in the upper and lower leg including the tibia, femur, patella, and fibula. The knee joint acts as a hinge, allowing the leg to move in one direction i.e. backward. Ligaments hold the knee bones together and also produce fluid which keeps the joint lubricated. The inner and outer sections of the tibia contain cartilage which provides shock absorption. The cartilage also prevents the knee bones from rubbing against each other.
Your knees perform several functions including balance, weight redistribution, and mobility. The knees are the central point of the leg, which performs an amazingly clever balancing acts to keep your body properly aligned, and working with the least pain, and with the most efficiency given the situation under which it works.
The support, cushioning, stiffness of a training shoe will subtly alter how the whole leg works as you run. This could, for example make you foot slightly pronate, or supinate, or may cause you to lean forward a tiny amount. This may put more pressure on the knee joint than nature designed. This could be the cause of tightening of muscles, and small adjustment, that could put pressure on other joints, and other muscles and tissues of the body. Not least of which being the knees.
The best running shoes for knee pain are often ones with a lower or low heel to toe drop. If you are currently experiencing knee pain, and suspect that you running shoes may be the cause, then move to minimalist shoes, or try barefoot running. Make sure that you take it easy with either of these options. You shouldn’t do anywhere near the distance, until you can run and after the run not feel sore. You will also likely feel more soreness with this option, but that may be preferable to knee problems in the future.
Plantar Fasciitis and Other Foot Problems
Running shoes can be the cause of many problems in the legs and feet. One of the most annoying and painful of these is plantar fasciitis.
Plantar fasciitis refers to inflammation of the plantar fascia, a ligament that connects the ball of your foot to the heel. Hammertoes occur when your second, third or fourth toes bend at the joint due to tight shoes and curl in on themselves.
Plantar fasciitis is quite common among long distance runners, due to the repetitive nature of running, and the pressure that places on the plantar fascia ligament. A tight Achilles tendon may also cause this painful problem as the tightness causes the plantar fascia to do more work.
The Best Running Shoes for Metatarsalgia
Metatarsalgia is inflammation and pain in the ball of your foot. In this case, the best running shoes for metatarsalgia may be ones with plenty of cushioning. It is also possible to put padded insoles into your existing shoes in this case. You should also back off doing long distances, or very hard efforts, until the problem is resolved.
It is a good idea to ice the foot, and rest until this problem gets better. If it returns, this could be due to a number of things, including:
- excess weight
- high-intensity training or activity
- poorly fitting shoes
- stress fractures
- foot deformities
If the problem returns in exactly the same way, it may be worth seeing your GP to find out more.
This is likely to be something more persistent and noticeable than aching feet, from a day walking around.
The Best Running Shoes for Plantar Fasciitis
In this case the best running shoes for platar fasciitis as the same as the best running shoes for achilles problems, which are shoes with a greater heel to toe drop. In this case you need to know what drop your current runners have, and see if you can find something slightly bigger.
It is quite clear you could end up in a to and fro motion with the problems occurring with your feet, going from one extreme to another. You could also do some stretching, and strengthening exercises for your legs and feet. An idea again could be occasionally running in minimalist running shoes, or going complete barefoot. You will get strong, and it will take time, but in the meantime, those higher drop running shoes might be the best option.
The best running shoes for neck pain and other poor posture
A Poor posture refers to a condition where the spine is in an unnatural position thanks to day to day activities like sitting at a desk too long or slouching forward while walking. A bad posture causes shoulder and back pain, headaches, lower limb pain, and fatigue. Poor posture has a number of other causes in addition to slouching over a desk all day. These include; muscle weakness, poorly designed workspaces, and occupational demands. In addition, wearing the wrong shoes can force your center of gravity to shift, cause your chest to move forward and round out your shoulders, leading to poor posture.
The best solution for poor posture caused by wearing the wrong shoes is to invest in shoes that correct your posture and take the pressure off your back, hips, knees, and feet. Look for shoes that come with insoles that provide arch support, ensure that they have extra depth in order to ease the pressure on your feet and try to find options with a wide toe box that allows for free movement of your toes. Consider doing exercises to strengthen your feet so that you can have healthier shoes and allow your feet to work more naturally.
Are Running Shoes With Cushioning Bad?
Are modern shoes the cause of injuries and other problems we get when running?
Before the advent of modern shoes, most humans walked barefoot or wrapped their feet in soft leather moccasins or sandals. This footwear was intended to protect them from hard surfaces and the elements. A lot later in history, in the 1800 people used to wear leather shoes with virtually no sole. These were lighter and more agile than the dress shoes of the time. By the 1960s we were starting to see running shoes with the uppers much more like what we would now consider modern running shoes. By the 1970s, we started to see running shoes with cushioned soles. This was the next evolution, to allow sprinters to be able to make longer strides, and heel strike without pain.
A running shoe study from 2018, looked at running shoes with more padding versus those with less padding, to see which is actually better for you. Thicker cushioning leads to runners bending their knees less. This results in higher impact forces, versus those with thinner less cushioned running shoes.
Barefoot and Barefoot or Minimalist shoes
Recently there has been a resurgence in minimalist running shoes for this reason. Many will point to the fact that Vibram lawsuit and class action happened as proof that barefoot or minimalist running shoes do not work. The reality behind the case is that the lawsuit was due to the fact that Vibram marketed that these shoes strengthened runners’ feet and lead to fewer injuries. The marketing message was found to be deceptive – in other words, that there was no scientific proof to support those marketing claims. That could mean for some people they are good, for others not so much. We knew that already.
That tells us that we need to pick our running shoes based upon our own individual needs, and experiences. For the types of running that we will be doing, our level of fitness, training frequency and so on.
Many elite runners from Kenya and Ethiopia grew up running barefoot with the result that they have stronger feet with well-developed arches and a lighter, faster stride. That is a massive over-simplification of why Kenyan and Ethiopian runners are so good.
Give Barefoot Running A Try
Running barefoot causes you to lean into a forefoot strike, and this has several advantages.
- reduced impact on the heel as well as knee joints and your back
- better posture
- greater balance.
It does also require patience unless you’re someone who grew up doing this, you will have to gradually strengthen your feet, your calf muscles and a lot of the muscles involved in running.
Barefoot running is strange if you have never done it before. I felt like it changed running for me – I love the feeling, felt like running was easier, like I was floating. Yes, I got blisters, yes, it was hard, and I got sore. But I personally loved it.
Barefoot Running Warning
You have to be so careful not to injure yourself from over-use. Build up your distances and speed very slowly.
Forget about how quickly you can pile on the distance in cushioned running shoes, because barefoot is completely different.
Your body will tell you when it has done too much, as it will when you are running with bad form. But it takes a lot of patience to go completely barefoot. Maybe try a few runs without shoes and see how you like it. Then if you enjoy it, look at some minimalist shoes like Vibram Four Fingers, or Merrell Vapor Glove or some other minimalist shoes that will protect your feet a little from becoming too sore.