Should Runners Wear Orthotics?
Insoles are all around us. In fact, many practitioners in different disciplines across the board recommend them. However, are they good for runners and all they are cracked up to be? Do runners really need to get expensive or even off-the-shelf insoles? Do Insoles Prevent Running Injuries?
As usual…It depends. It depends on a lot of different factors and what the goal of the insole is.
My first line of defense is not going to be an insole however if there is pain. Usually, pain can be fixed and corrected with exercise and addressing imbalances. Then if that doesn’t work other ideas need to be looked into. One of those ideas is insoles.
However, as a consumer and someone who is looking for the best option as a runner. I think that you should know all the facts about insoles before you use them for running. Especially since I see specialty running stores promoting them frequently to all runners.
The Effect of Insoles on Running Economy
Running economy is a measure of how much oxygen your body needs to run at a certain speed. The better your running economy, the faster you will be able to run for a longer amount of time.
It has been found that foot orthoses and insoles are associated with a negative effect on running economy.
Insoles Cause a Decrease in Running Economy
So, why is there a decrease in running economy when using insoles?
Research has been estimated that the longitudinal arch in our feet returns between 8-17% of energy with each foot strike when we are running. Without this return of energy from our arch (caused by insoles) we have a decrease in running economy.
Typically insoles and orthotics for runners will manipulate your foot’s arch by limiting the amount of deformation (a good and normal thing when we run) and recoil that occurs during running.
When we restrict how much our arch deforms, it means that the active muscles in our feet must work harder to make up for this. This means that as runners, we need to put in more effort to achieve the same level of performance.
What has to work harder with insoles? The increased muscle activation needed to make up for the feet not being able to recoil is found in the hip extensors (glute max and hamstrings).
Can Insoles Cause Injury in Runners?
Injuries occur because we put more stress on a body part than it was meant to have.
In the case of insoles, the increased stress on the hip extensors can lead to injury. They are not only having to do their normal work but also the work of what the insoles are limiting.
Also, if your extensors are working extra to take up the slack of your feet then they aren’t doing their job which is to help propel you forward….so you become slower.
How Can Runners Benefit from Insoles?
There are a few instances in which runners can benefit from using insoles.
There really isn’t much research out there that says that insoles are beneficial for runners. Just like there isn’t much research out there that supports different shoe types for runners.
My best advice is if it feels good then wear them. But if your shoes are comfortable when you run without them…why spend the money?
However, there is one thing the research is clear on. As I went over earlier, insoles reduce the amount of running economy you have and can be detrimental to performance. Unless you get some carbon fiber ones that is.
How to Prevent Running Injuries in Your Feet with Insoles?
There just isn’t any research out there that suggests this works as of yet.
My best advice to reduce your risk of injury is to strengthen and improve your mobility in your feet to make them better able to support you during your runs.
I believe our first line of defense is always to use our own muscles to support ourselves. Our bodies are amazing and capable of doing great things if we just put in the work.
Final Thoughts on Insoles for Runners
If you are a runner, then it’s important to understand how insoles can affect your running economy and risk of injury. Whether or not this information is enough for you to make the decision about whether or not to use them will depend on cost and personal preference.
There is no clear evidence in the research that insoles can prevent injury but they can have a negative effect on your running economy as well as increased stress on other body parts. This increased stress could actually lead to injury instead of preventing it.
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References for Orthotics for Runners
Why do Runners Need Insoles for Their Shoes
Dr. Abby Siler, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist with 10 years of experience in a variety of settings. She has spent the majority of her time treating athletes in orthopedic clinics and worker’s compensation cases. She is a runner herself for the past 15 years and a lifelong athlete. Dr. Abby loves to teach runners how to stay injury free and out of her clinic.