A study came out in November 2011 that showed some promising results for podiatrists everywhere – using orthotics in your shoes showed to reduce injuries in military personnel by 20%. This was the first study that demonstrates the use of orthotics in an injury prevention role.
But is it true?
This study appears pretty sound. However, there are some things that need to be noted before we start trumpeting the benefits of orthotics to runners everywhere. Is this study even applicable to runners? Yes, but with some caveats.
- This study focused on overuse injuries. Overuse injuries are the biggest concern for runners as injuries happen when they are training too hard or changing something in their training too quickly.
- The military training regimen included running. Because it was military training, it was likely not easy (I did not see the participants’ level of effort noted).
- The people in the study trained two to three times per day, putting them in a situation where they were susceptible to overuse injuries. This meant the risk for injury was greater and there would be more statistical evidence gathered.
- The people in the study were previously determined to be “high-risk” due to factors such as biomechanics and gait. For the sake of the experiment, it provides better data, but that means the results do not include the average person.
- The study does not separate the experimental group by gait type, or specify which gait types are high risk.
- We do not know what exact other exercises were done in addition to running that may have contributed to an overuse injury.
- Custom orthotics are used in the study. This is good for the participants of the study, but far more expensive than over-the-counter ones most people have easy access to.
What Can We Draw From This Study?
While it looks like orthotics can prevent injuries for high-risk military personnel on an intense training regimen, that does not necessarily translate to an everyday runner. However, if you know that you have a biomechanical issue with your feet, legs, or torso, it’s very possible that custom orthotics could help you out.
The catch in this situation is two-fold. One, you have to schedule a series of doctor’s appointments to be properly diagnosed and spend a lot of money to get custom orthotics. Secondly, a poor gait can cause a biomechanical flaw in your feet (ex. a dropped metatarsal). So, it would be more useful to correct the root cause (your stride) than it would be to bandage the problem (orthotics).
To me, it seems like an expensive cop-out. If you are using a forefoot strike and actively practicing good running form, you shouldn’t need orthotics. Plus, they don’t fit in many barefoot and minimalist shoes, meaning any potential benefits could be nullified by a potential heel strike.
If you having injury issues, try to strengthen your feet and legs first. Learn and implement proper running form. Don’t get orthotics unless you have a biomechanical reason to.