Are you wearing the right shoes for your sport?

We are right at the start of another winter sports season and it’s time to think what we can do to prevent those nasty injuries from interrupting your game. One of the easiest ways to minimize the risk of injury is to make sure you have the right footwear for the conditions. It is still summer and the ground is reasonably dry. Most people will think that this makes playing sport safer as it prevents slipping and falling. However, it might not always be the case. When the playing surface is too dry and hard it makes the foot stick harder to the ground. This is known as “shoe-surface friction”. As you know, many team sports such as rugby, soccer, league, netball, basketball and others, often require the athletes to suddenly change direction while running at a high speed. This is when your shoe’s ability to get unstuck from the ground becomes vitally important. Many knee injuries occur when a player makes a sudden directional change with a foot being fixed to the ground and not being able to be freed from the surface at the right time. This causes excessive torsional (or twisting) forces in the knee often resulting in severe ligament tears. Some of these knee ligament injuries can take months to rehab and may often require surgery. Choosing the right footwear design will help you reduce the risk of these injuries and avoid lengthy time off the field required for full rehabilitation.

Generally, the higher the tread on the shoes the less ‘give’ there is and the more stress is generated on the ankle and knee joints. When applied to football boots, this means that larger and longer cleats will give you more friction which may be a positive thing when you are playing on a wet surface such as often seen in winter. However, in dry conditions this may not allow enough ‘give’ and therefore result in a serious injury. Therefore, it would be fair to say that there is no universally ideal footwear design suitable for all sports and surface conditions. Instead, it is wise to choose the type of footwear taking into consideration the current conditions on the day. In summary, the boots with larger and longer cleats are recommended to be worn in wet weather to provide adequate friction between the shoe and the ground to prevent slipping, and shorter cleat footwear with reduced grip are to be used on dry surfaces.

Another factor to consider is playing on artificial turf which is being used more and more these days. A study by Villwock et al, 2009 has shown that wearing special turf footwear which has a dense pattern of short elastomeric cleats may reduce the stress on your joints while participating in sports on artificial surfaces.
And last but not least a firm mid-sole will help to prevent excessive rear-foot movement and avoid associated problems. It is really easy to check for this when purchasing your new pair of football or rugby boots just by bending and twisting the boot through the middle. There should be a reasonable amount of resistance felt when doing this.

In addition to the above I would like to say that the footwear you play sport in should also simply feel comfortable. That means picking the right size as well. The last thing you want to do when you are participating in a sport is worry about pain and discomfort associated with footwear being too tight and those annoying blisters.
I would also recommend consulting with a health professional knowledgeable in the area such as a physiotherapist or podiatrist before purchasing your next pair of sports shoes/boots if you are not sure exactly what to look for when buying sports footwear.

1. Mark R. Villwock, Eric G. Meyer, John W. Powell, Amy J. Fouty and Roger C. Haut. (2009) Football Playing Surface and Shoe Design Affect Rotational Traction. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 37: 518.

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