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Running Shoe Malpractice

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!