April 7, 2003 -- Reebok, Nike, listen up. A small change in sports shoes -- inserting a textured shoe insole rather than a smooth one -- could prevent a slew of sports injuries, a new study shows. However, one expert advises that better training in your sport might help more.
The human foot contains extremely sensitive "sensors" in the sole -- sensors that provide important information about the terrain, writes lead researcher Gordon Waddington, MD, a physiotherapist with The Canberra Hospital in Australia. His study appears in this month's British Medical Journal of Sports Medicine.
This information helps the ankles and legs adjust to maintain balance, Waddington explains. However, some of these sensors are masked in footwear that have smooth shoe insoles, which results in sports injuries, he writes.
Waddington and his colleagues tested the effects of textured rubber insoles, designed to fit the boots of 17 players from the Australian Women's soccer team.
Researchers tested the movement of the women's right and left ankles separately. They used a device that measured the women's ability to detect small changes when their ankles were turned in -- similar to movement that causes ankle sprains. The tests were performed several times -- while the women were in boots, with and without the textured shoe insoles, and while barefoot.
They found "significantly worse" ankle movements while players wore smooth shoe insoles than while they were barefoot. However, the textured shoe insoles significantly improved the scores -- bringing them to barefoot levels.
Patrick McMahon, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, is skeptical. A different shoe insole might help prevent sports injuries, but not greatly, he tells WebMD.
Good training in your sport is the biggest factor in reducing sports injuries, McMahon says.
"People are performing an activity, then when an unexpected event occurs, they are unable to react to that event, their muscles can't respond quickly enough. They're playing basketball, do a lay-up, then accidentally come down on someone's shoe. Their reaction isn't going to be right. That's when an injury occurs. Nothing you put in a shoe will make a significant difference -- maybe a little difference, but I doubt it will decrease many injuries."
Instead, learn the proper way to do your sport, he advises. "Learn to run so you won't hurt yourself. Learn how to hold your body during a basketball game to avoid sports injuries. That's how professional athletes avoid injuries. They learn how to anticipate an injury, they develop a good sense of where their body is in space. Decreasing injury is mostly affected by the training processes that are going on in your brain."
He advises talking with a coach to learn how to prevent sports injuries.