I am a research physician, documenting the science behind foot function, for the last 37 years. A question I am frequently asked is what are the best running shoes? My training and first 24 years of practice was as a foot surgeon. When I actually understood how to control foot function, it mostly put me out of business as a surgeon.
Who knows what are the best running shoes?
I have treated well over 14 thousand patients for chronic foot pain over the last 30 years and have been doing full time biomechanical research since 1996. I currently conduct an on line clinical research protocol, and publish many of my findings at thetaorthotics.com . During my initial consultation I hear the history of all “efforts” made by my patients to find the best running shoes. I then document long term treatment, which includes use of shoes. I currently treat a fair number of tri-athletes, marathoners, long distance trail runners. and many regular people trying to just stay healthy. I am often asked by both my active patients and my competitive athletes, what are the best running shoes to buy? Clearly a relevant question both for athletes and just healthy people.
Pain causes people/athletes to find the best running shoes.
If you are looking for a way to run with less pain, you want a running shoe that is well structured, like a cross trainer. It would be nice if it could provide some supination to the foot during function. Most importantly the shoe needs to accommodate the unique contours of each individual foot type, Flat, Fore-Foot valgus, or Cavus. Unfortunately my research reveals that even the best shoe, one that best supinates the foot, provides only a very small amount of the supination actually needed for optimal biomechanical function. Which is why any particular shoe may help for a while, when the pain in minimal and infrequent. Over time and with more advanced biomechanical issues that same shoe does very little if anything to address the pain created by weight bearing activity.
A good running shoe has some limited benefits.
I Never want to suggest that a runner stop running as the only solution. Or that a regular patient stop going for walks with their husband or dog. But with out the ability to control foot function much better than even the most supportive (best) shoe you could buy the patient is soon in search of the new “best running shoes”. Even the best structured shoes distort as the arch collapses (pronation) during weight bearing. The little correction to begin with soon becomes ineffective and needs to be replaced. Eventually even the brand new shoes fail to control the pain, and the patient is looking for a new shoe, recommended in a new article, on best running shoes.
So what are the best running shoes?
Having said all of that, a well structured shoe, that contours each unique foot is the preferred running shoe. These same shoe requirements pertain to the runner who is also using an orthotic device to augment the “corrective” properties in the shoe. This would absolutely eliminate from any list of my best running shoes, those shoes advertised to be “comfort” shoes. Mesh or stretchy uppers often feel good the first little bit, but soon increase the intensity and frequency of the symptoms. The popular shoe design know as zero drop or natural shoes, with no heel elevation is another topic entirely, but my recommendation is to not change from what you have been doing. Chronic pain conditions are mostly aggravated when the heal height is eliminated, even though an increase in power, frequently observed by a competitive athlete, is generated during function.
Any shoe brands that feel comfortable with your specific foot type, with the physical structure described above, are the best running shoes for you. Just know that no shoe will do everything you want, and eventually you will need more of the same type of “correction” you first get from a well structured, well contoured, supportive running shoe. That “correction“, THETA, is what my research identified, defined, quantified, and has tested clinically for 37 years. Ultimately, I believe the best running shoes are well structured shoes with a well corrected Theta Orthotic inside.
Brent A Jarrett DPM