HealthDay News/Dr. Tango--A recent study suggests that when it comes to buying footwear, runners should follow Prince Charming's lead and consider a shoe's fit, not its price tag.
Using high-tech methods, a team of Scottish scientists found there were no differences in either comfort or shock absorption between running shoes costing $80 and shoes made by the same company costing more than $150.
"My advice to runners is that they should first look at if the shoe fits well. A higher price doesn't mean you're getting better quality," confirms Rami Abboud, head of the research group and director of the Institute of Motion Analysis and Research at the University of Dundee.
His team published their findings on October 10 in the online edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Over the past few decades, the lowly sneaker has been transformed from a humble canvas-topped loafer into something that, according to advertisers, uses space-age technology to protect and enhance the human foot. Naturally these exorbitant claims come with exorbitant prices.
"What we wanted to research was, are you really getting value for money?" explained Abboud, "or are you just paying for advertisement."
In their study, the Scottish researchers asked 43 men with an average age of 29 to try on nine pairs of shoes, three models each from three of the world's leading manufacturers. The men's shoe sizes ranged from 8 to 10 (considered average), and the men didn't have any foot or gait abnormalities.
The retail price of each of the three shoes of each brand varied in price from $80 to $90, $120 to $130, and $140 to $150 respectively. The men were not aware of the brand nor the price of the shoes they were trying on.
Participants were asked to try on the shoes and give the researchers a subjective assessment of each shoe's comfort. They were also asked to run in the shoes while wearing high-tech sensors to measure the pressure on various points on the foot including plantar pressure, the force generated by the impact of the sole hitting the ground.
"I believe that manufacturers of sporting wear use similar, if not the same, equipment for measuring pressure inside the shoes," explained Abboud.
After tabulating the results, the researchers reported no significant differences in comfort among the shoes, regardless of their price.
As far as shock absorption, some shoes performed better than others on different areas of the foot, but no clear pattern emerged. In fact, plantar pressure was actually lower for cheap to moderately priced footwear compared to high priced shoes, although this difference didn't reach statistical importance, assured the researchers.
"The idea is that if you pay more, you will end up with more protective shoes; however, this is not what we were finding," said Abboud. "From what we have found, [the difference] seems to be just pure advertisement."
HealthDay efforts to obtain comments from Nike and Adidas, footwear manufacturers, were unsuccessful.
Podiatrists and footwear experts have their own opinions on the findings.
"I don't find anything shocking in this article, finding out that maybe some of the higher priced running shoes really aren't necessary for an average person who runs," assured Dr. James Christina, podiatrist and director of scientific affairs at the American Podiatric Medical Association. Big-name companies "come out with a new model [of running shoes] every year," he said. "How much can they really improve?"
However, he also pointed out that people who buy sneakers are paying for the lifespan of the shoe and not just its comfort and protection.
The Scottish study is a mere "snapshot of the cushioning ability of a shoe over time," explained Christina. "It would have been interesting to ask the participants to run during a certain amount of time for a determined number of months or a year, and then compare how the cushioning held up.
Another expert agreed and added that the fit of the shoe, not the price, should be the determining factor when buying shoes.
The study's methodology "didn't tell me if the shoes were appropriate for a particular runner," commented Dr. Gerard Varlotta, director of sports rehabilitation at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitative Medicine, part of New York University Medical Center.
"What we have to do is look at the shoe itself and not the price," he said. "Is someone who runs 300 miles a week the same as someone who runs 3 miles a week?"
Bruce Wilk, physical therapist and former board member of the American Medical Athletic Association, owns Runner's High a store in Miami catering to avid runners. He explained that too many runners just try on a few sneakers in a store without giving them a test run.
"A lot of times they invest money in something that just simply does not fit them," he explained. "New shoes always feel comfortable if they don't squeeze or dig in. But if runners enjoy running in the shoes, and are taught what to look for, then the panorama changes."
That's why Wilk has his customers try running with different shoes on a treadmill before they choose which ones are right for them.
In terms of the price, Wilk agreed that if the option is $80 versus $200 there may not be a significant advantage at all. It's just about how the shoe feels to the beholder."
Varlotta agreed. "You don't have to buy the most expensive [shoes] to get something that meets your needs," he said, "just like you don't need a Rolls Royce to enjoy a smooth drive."
More information on how to properly choose running shoes can be found at the website of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine .
SOURCES: Rami Abboud, Ph.D., director, Institute of Motion Analysis and Research, University of Dundee, Scotland; Gerard Varlotta, M.D., director, sports rehabilitation, Rusk Institute of Rehabilitative Medicine, New York University Medical Center, New York City; James Christina, DPM, director, scientific affairs, American Podiatric Medical Association, Bethesda, Md.; Bruce Wilk, physical therapist, Miami; Oct. 10, 2007, British Journal of Sports Medicine, online © Author rights 2007, ScoutNews, LLC
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