What has happened to injury rates? Are running shoes to blame?

by admin on February 9, 2010

You can often read comments or statements to the effect that running shoe technology has allegedly improved massively over the last 20-30-40 years, yet when you look at the epidemiological studies of running overuse injuries, there has been no change. The barefoot running community tend to use such statements as evidence that running shoes are bad. You also see many claims in barefoot running books and websites, that the injury rate is actually going up. But like other bits of intellectual dishonesty, they just do not seem to get it and repeatedly twist things to suit their agenda.

Yes, if you look at the marketing of running shoes and the technological development of running shoes, there is an apparent improvement in the features that are claimed to help reduce running injuries.

Yes, if you look at the old and more recent prevalence and incidence of running overuse injury studies, the rates of injury are pretty similar (as an aside, most comments I have seen in running barefoot books, on running forums and barefoot running websites on this, show that they do not even know the difference between the words ‘incidence’ and ‘prevalence’, so how can you trust any interpretation they make of the research of they can’t get the basics right?).

But, if you dig a little deeper, the comparisons between then and now do not stack up to scrutiny. You will not be able to find a single epidemiologist (the specialists who do these sorts of studies for a living) who would agree that the comparisons between the older studies and the newer studies are valid. If they are adamant you can’t do this, then why do the anti-running shoe community think they can do it?

Why can’t you compare them? Because:

  • The populations used are different in different studies
  • The selection of the populations are different in different studies
  • The definition of an injury was different in different studies
  • The collection of the data was different in different studies
  • Running has changed over time (I came across a comment recently that the average marathon time in the 80’s was 3hr 8min and these days its around 4hr 20mins – how can you compare these two different populations?)

On the surface, it does appear the injury rate across studies over time has not changed, but dig below the surface and you cannot make that comparison. It’s simply not valid. If you want to beat up on running shoes, you are going to have to find something else rather than dig a bigger hole for yourself using this data.

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Where are all these impact injuries that runners are supposed be getting an epidemic of?
February 23, 2010 at 11:26 pm

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