Running Shoes: Don't Pay More

Within Brands, Price No Sign of Running Shoe's Quality

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 10, 2007

Oct. 10, 2007 -- Running-shoe buyers, beware! Whichever brand of running shoe you favor, the brand's most costly model is no better -- and may be worse -- than its lower-priced shoes.

The warning comes from studies by Rami J. Abboud, PhD, director of the Institute of Motion Analysis and Research at the University of Dundee, Scotland, and colleagues. The researchers used sophisticated tests to measure the performance of various running shoes.

The idea of the tests was not to see how cheap a shoe you can get away with. All of the shoes tested were brand-name shoes sold in stores that cater to runners. Retail price tags ranged from $81 to $152 (£40 to £75) in U.K. stores.

Nearly every brand of running shoe has models that are relatively low, medium, and high priced. The high-priced shoes claim to have more features. Are they really worth the extra cost?

"If you are thinking, 'Pay more for a better shoe,' think again," Abboud tells WebMD. "Do the expensive ones last longer? If they were put through a marathon, would the cushioning be better? We really couldn't find a difference there."

In the study reported ahead of print today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Abboud and colleagues tested a low-, medium-, and high-priced running shoe from each of three brands. Each shoe was fitted with specially made insoles filled with 99 sensors to measure pressures placed on the foot.

After covering the shoes' distinctive markings with masking tape, 43 young male volunteers took the shoes for a run on a treadmill. In addition to the computer-assisted tests, runners also rated the shoes for comfort and tried to guess their price.

The result: Low- and medium-cost running shoes cushioned the foot at least as well as -- and sometimes better than -- the high-priced shoes. Runners found no difference between the shoes in terms of comfort. And they were terrible at guessing the price.

Abboud will not say which brands were tested -- yet. His group has already completed two larger studies that he says include every brand of running shoe on the market. When all the studies are published, Abboud says he will reveal the brand and model names.

But Abboud is already delivering the punch line: No matter how he looks at them, high-priced running shoes aren't better than lower-priced models within the same brand.

"What we found is really astonishing," he says. "We are going deeper and deeper to find why we are paying more for some shoes. At the moment, we cannot find a reason except for better material on the outside. Nothing on the inside of the expensive shoe is better."

(Do you buy expensive athletic shoes? Tell us why or why not on WebMD's Exercise & Fitness: Rich Weil, MEd, CDE, message board.)

How to Choose a Running Shoe

It's always a bad idea to buy a running shoe based on price. Instead, you should buy it based on comfort, says Charles F. Peebles, DPM, of the Atlanta Foot and Ankle Center.

Have an experienced running-shoe salesperson look at the arch of your foot while you're standing. If you have a high arch, you'll need a shoe that's curved across the bottom (the "last" of the shoe). If you have low arches, you'll need a shoe with a straight or slightly curved last. People with low arches may also need custom-made shoe inserts and/or arch supports.

Running is a high-impact activity. First and foremost, running shoes are designed to lessen that impact. This means the shoe should be the proper size. Abboud and colleagues found that the size printed on the shoe is not necessarily the shoe's true size. So when shopping, always try the shoe on. There should be one-quarter of an inch between your longest toe and the tip of the shoe.

Since your feet swell as the day goes on, try on shoes at the time of day you usually go for a run. And be sure to wear the same kind of socks, orthotic devices, or braces you wear when running.

Your feet bend only at the toes -- so make sure that's where the shoe bends, too. Try bending the shoe in half. If it folds in the middle or near the heel, Peebles advises, don't buy it.

Next, hold the shoe by the toe and heel and twist it as if you were wringing out a rag. It should not twist very much.

When you find a well-made pair of shoes that seems to fit, put both shoes on and run or jog in the store. They must be comfortable. Do not buy a shoe that doesn't fit perfectly on the theory that it will "break in" later. That's not the way it works.

Finally, don't try to save money by making one kind of shoe work for different sports. Running shoes are for running. To wear them to play tennis or basketball is to invite injury.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Clingham, R.C. British Journal of Sports Medicine, published online ahead of print, Oct. 10, 2007. Rami J. Abboud, PhD, professor of biomechanics and biomedical engineering and director, Institute of Motion Analysis and Research, University of Dundee, Scotland. Charles F. Peebles, DPM, Atlanta Foot and Ankle Center.

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