Why cushioning should not be your main focus on footwear

When deciding its time to purchase a new pair of shoes, whether it be for work, leisure or for your activity, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the technology each shoe has to offer. Quite often I have had patient’s discuss that even when they are wearing their most “cushioned shoes,” the pain is still evident.  Unfortunately cushioning does not always equal comfort. Sometimes that thick padding underneath the foot can actually be a hinderence. How? Well our body function is very complex and the mechanics of how we walk (also known as the study of Human Biomechanics) is no acception.

Pronation is the term used to describe a foot “rolling in”. Pronation is a natural and very important part of the walking cycle. Without it, we lose the ability to absorb shock. Think jumping off a ledge with straight legs. However “excessive pronation” is when the foot fails to return back to it’s stable position before toe off and this is where patholigcal problems can arise.

When we are barefoot, there is only a certain amount of pronation that can occur before we contact the ground applying resistance. When we place the same foot into a thick cushioned shoe that has no supportive features, we increase the distance between the ground and the heel, also known as the moment arm. A larger moment arm means pronation can be increased before we receive ground resistance leading to an increase in the strain and demand on the body.

It has been identified that excessive pronation ia a contributing factor to many musculoskeletal injuries.  A study performed by Sinclair, Jonathan et al (2016) found that maximalist cushioned footwear lead to an increase in peak patellofemoral force at the knee joint when running.

If you are experiencing any pain in the lower limb, consider a thorough biomechanical assessment where a trained podiatrist can lead you in the correct direction for appropriate footwear suited to you. Just remember, slippers can be very cushioned and extremely comfortable, but we know that they are not the best option to train in!