East Jefferson General Hospital

Optimum Performance: If the shoe fits (you can avoid injury)
Written by Mackie Shilstone   

The ability to be able to shift direction rapidly is vital for any athlete involved in sports such as football, soccer and basketball, which use sprinting or cutting movements. A very important consideration is the selection of the athlete's shoes when performing such change of direction movements. The right fit is of the utmost necessity to ensure safety, whereas the wrong shoe (cleat) may ultimately increase the athlete's risk for injury.

Spiked or cleated shoes are normally capable of two types of traction. 1) Forward traction: sticking to the ground while moving forward, and 2) Rotational traction: sticking to the ground while moving sideways or while shifting in direction. More traction leads to decreased risk in player safety, as determined in a 2009 study in which a soccer team's shoes were collected and the spikes were either shaved halfway or shaved completely (flat shoes — no traction). Players were shown to be "significantly slower moving forwards and sideways," when the shoes possessed less traction (shaved halfway down of flat).

A recently published article in The New York Times outlines the latest study regarding shoe traction in association to player safety from the Human Performance Lab at the University of Calgary. In these findings, researchers discuss a new technique they've developed when determining the safest shoes for said sports involving cutting or sprinting.

These scientists created a "shoe wearing robot" that moved forward and sideways on a field at any programmed speed. The machine's "feet" remain fixed to the ground while in motion to determine the traction of the shoe in question.

Using this machine, hundreds of local high school soccer players donated their shoes to be tested. After the machine had been fitted with each shoe and evaluated, the shoes were returned.

Next, the players were asked to record the next two years worth of non-contact related sports injuries. After two years, it was determined that "players whose shoes provided more forward traction had less injuries." This, of course, was in contrast to previous belief that forward-related traction would not have much effect on injury risk, whereas rotational traction would.

It was determined that for sports like football, soccer, and basketball, the fastest shoes equated to one that gripped the player's feet when they moved forward, while remaining "unstuck" to the ground when they cut unexpectedly sideways. When said athletes are in search of the proper shoe for their sport, consider this: make sure to consider avoiding models with multiple, large, "toothy" cleats, or those with rubber nodules, as these cleats create too much rotational traction (leading to a higher risk for injury).

Unfortunately, officials at the University of Calgary have stated that most companies do not advertise the traction capabilities of their shoes (mostly because they don't have the ability to do so). Risk of injury is also determined by individual body size and movement patterns, not to mention the quality of terrain on which these sports take place. For example, whether the field is too muddy or too dry.

William Sherman, East Jefferson General Hospital orthopedic surgeon and team physician for the New Orleans Zephyrs, states that selection of proper cleats is an underestimated component of injury prevention. "The cleats themselves are designed differently and can lead to injury if the wrong type is chosen for a player," he said.

When a player has a shoe that has too much rotational control, it can place higher stress on the ankle and knee during cutting and lateral movement. Cleats are designed with a specific purpose and are even specific to different positions within a sport.

For example, a football lineman with a need for lateral movement at low velocity is best served with a cleat with an increased amount of rotational control with a high top to provide ankle support. A defensive back, however, would not want such a heavy shoe and without the ankle support would need a shoe with less rotational control.

Baseball cleats are designed predominantly for traction, as sliding is used for most of the abrupt stops in the sport, whereas soccer cleats have less rotational control, so players do not translate the rotational stress from rapid deceleration and cutting movements to the ankle or foot.

In addition to the previous advice, Sherman recommends that athletes involve their trainers, coaches and doctors, when choosing the right pair of shoes specific to the player's sport, their position, and their body composition.

Without proper care of your feet in sports participation, you're done. Consider your athletic career on hold. A devastating foot injury may require surgery and an extended recovery process in certain cases.

Play smart, lace up a quality pair of shoes, and make sure they are specific to your sport. There is no reason to risk injury. Ever.