Are running shoes like mattresses?

Mattresses came from the pursuit of comfort and commercial profitability. A ‘good’ mattress receives your body, moulding and supporting. After a long day, landing in bed and embarking on slumber can bring great pleasure. And yet, chronic back pain in Australia is at a record high level. So, mattresses with all the proclaimed technology have not improved back pain. By observing cultures from both today and yesteryear, it is clear that the human body is capable of sleeping on firm variable surfaces. Supposed gnarly adventurers sleep straight on the ground, without even a sleeping pad.

Modern running shoes have a similar history. Having arisen from the pursuit of comfort and profitability. With many attempts at injury prevention. But again, the statistics don’t paint a picture of improvement. In fact, on average injury rates seem to have little or no correlation to footwear type. People are capable of walking and running on firm variable surfaces with no footwear. And running injuries happen at similar rates. Much like mattresses, some shoes feel uncomfortable from the outset. They just don’t work for you. But, I think that the pursuit of the perfect shoe is flawed. Perhaps the goal should be to find a shoe that is comfortable and run with it. If you are having problems with running, look beyond the shoe. Placing too much blame on footwear can lead to unsatisfying and expensive searching.

Beware of falling too deeply in love with your shoes or mattress. One day, your shoes will be discontinued. And another day you’ll go on holiday and sleep in unfamiliar beds. Being resilient and adaptable gives you the ability to be comfortable in changing environments. This is a feature of robust health.

In the climate of complicated options and strong opinions, the answer may lie in simplicity. Find footwear (or lack of - for the eccentric barefooters) that fits and is comfortable. Then be confident in your decision. Spend your energy on strategies that are more likely to yield the result you want. More on this later.

Thanks for the read.


Toby Moen

Adelaide Running Physiotherapy