Running Shoe Malpractice

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For years now, while in local running stores, I’ve watched as store associates have placed runners onto one of their many treadmills. From here I watched as the store associates instruct runners to run “normal” all the while they tinkered with buttons and observed the runner. While this was going on, a small camera had been placed on the back of the treadmill and it video taped the runners feet. This entire process is called a gait/stride analysis. The store associate gathered information about the runners stride, how they landed on their feet, if they pronated or supinated.. and then a secondary machine measured the bottoms of the runners feet to determine how “in balance” they were.
After all of this, the store associate provided the runner with a bit of “education.” The associate told the runner about their stride, the way their feet moves, their gait, and in the end.. offered up a solution to the problem. At this moment it struck me… in essence, this store associate is playing the part of a “prescriber.” What I mean by this is.. without being a doctor, athletic trainer, personal trainer, podiatrist, or exercise physiologist or any other medical professional; they dispense what folks believe to be a well educated diagnosis on what is happening with the runners body…. the store associate is giving the runner a “prescription” to buy a specific type of shoe, or orthotic/footbed/insert, to cure their running symptoms.

***

Tonight, I finally had this testing done on myself. I went into a local RoadRunner Sports running store, where a sales associate welcomed me into the store and immediately offered me a free gait analysis. I balked at the idea at first. Why? Because since I began running in 2004, I have yet to have something like this ever done. I’m the kind of guy who believes, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” I’ve put plenty of shoes on my feet that have hurt or simply didn’t fit right. I’ve done enough trial and error to know what size shoe fits me just right, what I’m comfortable in, and what helps me get the job done. But still…. I had to finally do it. So I agreed.

We started by having me step on a pad where my balance can be assessed by a computer. In mere seconds, a computer generated elevation map shoed where I place all of my weight, which is in my heels. I all ready knew this. The associate asked me if I thought I had high arches, medium arches or low arches. I’ve always known I had medium arches. I didn’t need the computer generated readout to tell me so. Still.. I answered, “Medium,” and the associated confirmed my option. He then asked me what size shoe I am, to which I answered “Eight and a half.” He replied, “want to bet a dollar?” He measured my feet and loudly proclaimed for the entire store to hear that I am a 9.5 and he recommended that I wear a size 10. Now, this… just got interesting.

I got onto the treadmill and allowed the associate to assess my gait and stride. I ran, barefoot, on he treadmill and a short video was taken. I’ve worn stability shoes for years (because that’s what I’ve always been comfortable in) and guess what, after watching the video and offering his “expert” opinion, he confirmed what I all ready knew. I need a stability shoe. But I had a question. Why did he have me run on the treadmill barefoot? I think we all can agree that our strides differ between when we are barefoot or shoed. I wonder what the results would be if I wore a pair of shoes.

I’ll admit it.. I was impressed that this associate was able to adequately determine that I have medium arches and require a stability shoe. But I’m no size 10. In arguing the point that I wear 8.5′s, the associate asked me how many toe nails I’ve lost. To which I replied 3. All three times that I’ve ever lost a toenail from running, it was from running 100 milers. The fist 2 times on a saturated course that offered no chance at dry feet. The 3rd and final time after having kicked a rock like a Pele soccer shot at Massanutten. That’s it. Still, the associate prescribed me a pair of insoles for my shoes (which I don’t need), and that I wear a size 10 shoe… Size 10. Which is a half size larger than what he measured me at and a whole 1.5 sizes larger than what I wear and am comfortable in.

***

Over the years, I started to think about how dangerous this practice actually is. And I wondered how many runners out there had received a diagnosis and prescription from their local running store only to get injured or their issues to get worse?? This frightens me, and it frightens me how much trust consumers put into the meager store associate. These associates are none of the professions I listed in the previous paragraph. They are not qualified to give a prescription for anything. So then I ask.. if they prescribe me a pair of shoes and an insert and I get hurt, can I now sue them for malpractice? The actual legal answer, might surprise you!

Check this out. CLICK HERE. In this article from February 2011, we learn that a woman is suing Sketchers with the claim that their Shape Up shoes cause hip fractures. I am more interested in the paragraph further down in the article where they discuss how Sketchers never did any research studies to see if their shoes caused injury. Funny… because they also never did a study to prove that their shoes actually cause you to get in better shape. Yet.. sales associates “prescribed” the shoes to consumers convincing them that they’ll help them “tone up” and “feel great.” Hmmm… Check THIS out!

But this brings me back to the running stores. How the hell can a sales associate, who went to a weekend (or week long in tonight’s case) seminar on runner analysis, properly assess your running form and then decide to prescribe you a pair of shoes?! I think back to when I first started running. My legs and ass always hurt from running when I first started. As did my feet, knees, hips, etc… I didn’t go to a running store for a form analysis! I went to an athletic trainer who has a degree in the study of human kinetics. There is where I got my form analysis and the prescription was not a different pair of shoes or inserts. It was exercise. It was working out in the gym to strengthen the many muscles I had neglected in my training, that in turn, cause poor running form. AMAZING! So I ask again.. how are running store associates getting away with this?!

These thoughts all brought me back to the whole barefoot running and “minimalist” running craze that has swept across the country and perhaps beyond. If you look at the research on the Harvard website and watch the videos and if you read Born to Run a bit closer… it’s not running barefoot that is the focus of the studies. It’s the idea of running with a forefoot or mid foot stride and how cushioning in running shoes has caused us to be heel strikers. So why the hell is everyone buying these minimalist shoes and running barefoot expecting this to be the magical prescription that causes them to change their stride? The real work, needs to be done in the gym and in the mind. Focus, concentration, true form analysis by a trained and educated professional followed by the strengthening of muscles which cause our poor form. Yes.. I know, running barefoot helps us strengthen muscles in the foot and leg.. but you don’t need a special shoe to get it done. This same thought process is reversed by the creators of Hoka. Two men who used to work for Salomon, but left to start Hoka; a shoe they designed in order to allow them to run on rugged trails while still heel striking.

***

I asked my sales associated what kind of training he received to do what he does. He told me he attended a week long course in San Diego, which was taught by another shoe specialist who was in terrible shape, and learned the info they were teaching from their own in-store experiences. Ultimately, he admitted the computer does a majority of the work, and his prescription for what shoe to wear is based on the opinion of the running store. What shoes does he run in? Moccasins. Yes… SLIPPERS! This same guy who just told me I need a size 10 stability shoe and a pair of insoles, runs in Moccasins! The next thing out his mouth? “You have to realize something, 90% of my customers are first time runners who don’t have a clue.” He’s right… so let’s feed them all a giant crock of crap.

I’m not a doctor, but I could play one on TV. I’ll analyze your running form.. and then tell you to get to the gym. Shoe’s aren’t the answer. Work is!

Cheers!

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Author: Sherpa John

See more of John's writting at sherpajohn.blogspot.com

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9 Comments

  1. This is well written and I could not agree more. Nothing makes me laugh out loud like going into a shoe store and hearing the out of shape “expert” dropping buzz words and throwing out recommendations like it makes him/her sound smart…all the while NEVER EVEN ASKING WHAT KIND OF RUNNING I DO! How many miles, terrain, speed, etc. No injury questions or racing plans. Just a bunch of corporate gobblety gook which almost always points to the most expensive shoe on the wall. “Yep the Newton will synergistically enhance your minimalist experience…Born to Run, Jurek, forefoot, chi, vegan, etc…” The priceless look on her face when I say I prefer a much higher heel compared to the toe area is worth a trip to the shoe store.

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  2. Great article! It’s much the same thing at the running stores here in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I’ve changed from a thumper (heel striker) to a forefoot runner over the past year but try finding a shoe for it! BAH! It’s easier to find a needle in a haystack! And my local running store shuns the idea of forefoot running! They have one shoe suitable for it and don’t carry sizes most of the time. And this is the leading running store here!
    When it came time to do the “shoe talk” in the clinic they skipped past anything to do with forefoot running/minimalist running until someone brought the topic up. And then they skirted around it like it was the plague. Clearly they were unprepared and didn’t want to look stupid in their lack of knowledge.
    it’s sad that in this day and age we aren’t presented with proper information and I feel bad for those people who are mislead and therefore put off of running as a result of injury that could have been avoided had they been educated properly and not treated as a dollar sign the moment they walk through the door.

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  3. I’m glad to hear somebody tell it like it is. Nice review. I’m thankful to be able to walk in and ask for a specific shoe and dismiss recommendations, condescending looks, etc. – definitely feel sorry for the beginners who aren’t far behind the salespeople. Sad, because RR didn’t used to be like that when they were truly a warehouse store………..

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  4. As a doctor, biomechanist, ultrarunner AND running shoe store owner I applaud your article! We have never done a traditional gait analysis at the San Diego Running Institute but rather take into account foot shape, size, running experience, body weight, terrain being run, old injuries and more. My employees are taught to explain to the customer that COMFORT IS KING and that shoes are not medical devices nor are they intended to treat or prevent running injuries or make you a better runner. Road Runner Sports used to be a business that helped runners and made some money doing it. They have transformed into a business whose sole mission is to take advantage of runners and take as much of their money as possible. In my opinion they practice medicine without a license not malpractice. In order to prescribe one must diagnose. Since they do not have a license to diagnose an injury how could they possible prescribe anything, especially a custom orthotic or a shoe? Without seeming self serving let’s get the word out there about their malfeasance and unethical business practices.
    Great article and observations!

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  5. Bwahahahaha. Oh my gosh John, this is best article you’ve ever written. Let me add one me thing they’ve done in my local specialty shoe store. They don’t even put you on their treadmill. Hell, they don’t even make you run. They ask you to WALK down a carpeted floor in front of them. And this is done by fresh out of high school associates or ex-college so-called athletes who know less about running than I do (and I’m no pro). Walking gait has NOTHING to do with running gait, pronation, anything. Yet they make the assessment and recommend a series of shoes based on a person walking barefoot. It’s laughable.
    Finally, a comment on barefoot/minimalism. Altra Zero Drop shoes have it right. Their Run Natural philosophy is reflected in their shoes – wide toe box for toe splay and zero drop so that a person can run naturally (midfoot or forefoot, doesn’t matter) in a fully cushioned running shoe.

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  6. You’re lumping Road Runners in with every run specialty store out there. They’re not all the same. Get “educated” before you blabber on about nonsense!

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  7. Dear Realist,

    When’s the last time you went to a trail running shoe store?

    :)

    Thanks for your honest, anonymous, feedback!
    SJ

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  8. Sherpa, I think what you are missing is “the lifestyle”. I’m not saying you don’t live the lifestyle because you obviously do.

    Being an ultra-runner you can boast lifestyle more than most but I think you have generalized the gait analysis by an experience or two. Lifestyle, to me, means that you revolve around a community running store. This means that you get to know the employees, participate in local running event, and do the weekly pub-runs. During this “training” your gait will change based on your strength training.

    As you know, during your ultra-running events your gait will change depending on your strength and terrain. This means that you may start off pronating but become a neutral runner 20 miles into the run, supinate at times, and then, perhaps, go back to pronating.

    The local running store “lifestyle” will help guide you through those changes. One does not simply put on a pair of sketchers that they purchased at Wally World and become an ultra-runner. Starting to train in a shoe that is not meant to be worn in this fashion can obviously do more harm than good. A bad shoe also discourages continuation in running.

    The local running “lifestyle” gives you experienced people to help you through these changes and also helps encourage people keep running because they have new friends that have helped them become accountable to show up and run.

    I agree that many places will try to “over-sell” you. I would never think to give an ultra-runner who is minimalist an insole. That just does not make sense at all. Sadly, many of the family-style running stores are being pushed to sell these because they are being run by corporate “business-minded” people who simply care about the “performance-based bonus” they get at the end of the year.

    At the ends of the day people just feel more confident with someone who can walk them through the process of running. Eventually they will know what their body is looking for, just like you, and rely less and less on running stores to help them train.

    I’m a bit confused by your article too. Are you saying that you want a full staff of doctors to sell you a shoe so they can be accountable? That’s just silly because, as a consumer, you are not going to pay $800.00 for a pair of shoes that are sold that way. You can’t staff a running store with doctors and expect the cost of the items to be reasonable.

    One thing you may not know is that local doctors often send their patients to local running stores so they can be “prescribed” a running “style”. Doctors do this because they know that experience is the best teacher when it comes to gait analysis. True, these people may be young and have only trained for a week to get a certificate; but they may have gone through 10,000 interactions with customers and have learned a thing or two on their own.

    I disagree with your article in many places. I agree with it in others. I think your experiences have led you far into the depths of running and you have forgotten what it is like to be that “newbie runner” who is scared to take the first step because they have no support team or knowledge. I think you should use your experience to help people take that “first step” into their running adventure. Sadly, I think this post is more apt to make someone ignore the local running community, buy a pair of sketchers from Wal-Mart and hurt themselves; thus being turned-off from running for life.

    Embrace your accomplishments of being an ultra-runner and encourage people to simply get out there and start moving. Walk, run, sprint, skip… whatever you want to do but keep moving. Isn’t that what it’s really about?

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