The current generation of running shoes that come with a heavy cushioned heel could diminish performance and alter an adolescent runner's biomechanics, according to a new study presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
Researchers recruited 12 adolescent competitive athletes from local track teams, and asked them to run on a treadmill in large heel trainers, track flats and without any shoes (barefoot) at four different speeds. Biomechanics - stride length, heel height during posterior swing phase and foot/ground contact - were measured with a motion capture system.
"Running barefoot or running in less of a running shoe (toe shoes, for example) is a newer trend," said Scott Mullen, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at The University of Kansas Hospital. "What we were trying to evaluate is whether or not the foot strike would change in an adolescent - who doesn't yet have a permanently established gate - when they changed their shoe or running speed."
"What we found is that simply by changing their footwear, the runners' foot strike would change," said Dr. Mullen. "When they ran in the cushioned heel or an average running shoe ─ even when running a 5-minute mile ─ the athletes landed on their heel first."
Many adolescent runners train in cushioned heels and compete in track spikes, "which may give them less of a (performance) advantage" in competition, said Dr. Mullen.As a 2010 study found that heel strike running distributes more energy to hips and knees, running in flat- soled shoes that promote a forefoot strike may "present a healthier foot strike for runners over a lifetime, possibly resulting in fewer hip and knee problems," said Dr. Mullen. More research is needed to determine the effects of shoes on foot strike.