High impact exercise—everything from HIIT training to CrossFit to running to sports—can take a toll on your joints, bones, and muscles. The repeated pounding of your body as you run or train can lead to muscular fatigue, joint pain, and even bone damage. To counteract this problem, a lot of sports apparel companies have added “shock absorbers” into their shoes. These cushions are intended to reduce the impact as you exercise, thereby reducing the risk of injury.
But according to a new study, these shock absorbers are little more than wishful thinking. While proper orthotics are an effective way to reduce injuries, the shock absorbers built into the sole of your shoes may not be doing anyone any good.
The study examined data from 18 studies: seven that involved shock-absorbing insoles, and 11 involving shoe orthotics. Of the seven studies, none proved that shock-absorbing insoles actually helped to reduce the risk of injury. In fact, one study discovered that shock absorbers increased injury risk.
With orthotics, however, there was some visible reduction of injury risk. Foot orthotics can reduce the chance of injury by as much as 28%. They will also reduce the risk of leg and knee fractures by up to 41%. However, they will do nothing to prevent back pain, Achilles tendon injuries, and knee pain.
So what does this mean for you? Are those fancy shock absorbing running or sports shoes you just spent a lot of money on good for nothing?
Definitely not. They’re still well-built shoes that are sturdy and will last you for months or years of training. They may keep your feet comfortable as you train or play sports. While they won’t increase your risk of injury, the shock absorbers can help to reduce foot pain. There’s no reason you shouldn’t keep using your shock absorber shoes if they’ve served you well until now.
But the next time you’re shopping around for a pair of shoes, don’t automatically go for the shoes with the shock absorbers or cushions built into the insoles. Consider buying a more lightweight pair of shoes and installing sports orthotics into the shoes. It’s a bit pricier, but it’s worth it to reduce your risk of injury.
1. “Effectiveness of foot orthoses and shock-absorbing insoles for the prevention of injury: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Daniel R Bonanno, Karl B Landorf, Shannon E Munteanu, George S Murley, Hylton B Menz, British Journal of Sports Medicine, doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096671, published online 5 December 2016.