Put Your Best Foot Forward
Orthotics can be an important component to healthy jogging.
Where their running shoes are concerned, runners may need to think beyond
the blinding myriad of colored stripes and swooshes. It's no longer just a
question of shock absorbent gel or strategically placed air pockets.
When you're considering premium footwear to prevent injuries, sports
medicine physicians say that orthotic insoles, or "orthotics" --
custom-made to support your particular feet -- may be the way to go, especially
if your problems are connected to the type of foot with which you were
"There are foot structure issues that seem to have a relationship with
lower extremity injuries," said Commander Richard Shaffer, Ph.D., of the
Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, Calif. Shaffer and his colleagues
have studied how foot structure is related to overuse injuries in Navy SEAL
recruits during training. Their results were published recently in the
American Journal for Sports Medicine.
Shaffer's team found that recruits with flat feet or high arches were more
likely to suffer a stress fracture -- one of the most common injuries among
runners -- than those whose arches have an average curve. His study could have
bearing on the estimated 10 million runners in the United States, up to half of
whom will experience some kind of foot injury.
But while orthotics may be the solution to the woes of some runners, the
specialized insoles aren't a necessity for everyone.
Identify the Cause
Physicians first need to go beyond foot structure and hone in on the source
of the problem, says sports podiatrist William Olson, D.P.M. Olson is President
of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine and Podiatrist for the
University of California, Berkeley athletic teams.
Identifying training errors -- which can compound the effects of an
athlete's body structure -- is the first step in evaluating fitness injuries,
Olson says. The most common training mistakes are cranking up the intensity,
duration, or frequency of training too quickly; not properly rehabilitating old
injuries; and failing to warm up and stretch adequately before working out.
The next thing to look at is the athlete's particular body structure and
motion -- or "biomechanics" -- and how they may have contributed to the
injury. Podiatrists use a simple examination technique: They watch their
patients walk, both barefoot and in the shoes they use while training.
Even if the patient's foot has some biomechanical abnormalities, it could be
the ground surface or the patient's shoes that are actually causing the
"One fellow ran a marathon on a crowned highway, so one foot was turning
in for 26 miles," Olson says. "To make orthotics for that person would
be a mistake. I told him why he was injured and to avoid circumstances like
Worn-out shoes can cause similar trouble. Most people don't wear down their
shoes perfectly evenly. As times goes on, the uneven wear causes the whole foot
to tilt, and could lead to an injury.