Selecting the right running shoe based on brain activity

How cool would that be? How feasible and practical it will become is another question, but that is exactly what these authors below proposed. They stated:

When consumers purchase shoes, they often try on a few pairs and make a selection; that selection may indeed be instinctive, but such a purchase may not always be the most suitable and healthy option. Therefore, selecting suitable shoes for each runner according to the runner’s brain activities can result in a much better shoe selection for the runner’s activities.

Here is what they did¹:

Analysis of Brain Activities due to Differences in Running Shoe Properties
K. Okubo, Y. Kurihara, T. Kaburagi, K. Watanabe
International Scholarly and Scientific Research & Innovation 8(12) 2014
Many of the ever-growing elderly population require exercise, such as running, for health management. One important element of a runner’s training is the choice of shoes for exercise; shoes are important because they provide the interface between the feet and road. When we purchase shoes, we may instinctively choose a pair after trying on many different pairs of shoes. Selecting the shoes instinctively may work, but it does not guarantee a suitable fit for running activities. Therefore, if we could select suitable shoes for each runner from the viewpoint of brain activities, it would be helpful for validating shoe selection. In this paper, we describe how brain activities show different characteristics during particular task, corresponding to different properties of shoes. Using five subjects, we performed a verification experiment, applying weight, softness, and flexibility as shoe properties. In order to affect the shoe property’s differences to the brain, subjects run for 10 min. Before and after running, subjects conducted a paced auditory serial addition task (PASAT) as the particular task; and the subjects’ brain activities during the PASAT are evaluated based on oxyhemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin relative concentration changes, measured by near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). When the brain works actively, oxihemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin concentration drastically changes; therefore, we calculate the maximum values of concentration changes. In order to normalize relative concentration changes after running, the maximum value are divided by before running maximum value as evaluation parameters. The classification of the groups of shoes is expressed on a self-organizing map (SOM). As a result, deoxyhemoglobin can make clusters for two of the three types of shoes.

They basically got 3 different designs in running shoes and measured brain hemoglobin parameters in five runners. It was only five as it was a proof of concept type study, but even in five the differences between the design features were detectable in the brain! How cool is that?

The three different running shoe designs were described as (the shoe were normalized to shoe A; not a lot of detail was provided here):
The next step would be determining what the ideal “oxyhemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin relative concentration changes” are and I do not know much about that! Then different, more subtle, design features could be determined as how they affect this brain parameter and how that correlates to the runners subjective interpretation of that design feature (ie was it their “sweet spot”?). How cool is that?

This is not as far feteched as it may seem. At the 2013 Pedorthic Association of Canada Annual Symposium in Montreal it was commented that:

Colin Dombroski, PhD, C. Ped gave a very interesting presentation on a pilot study he just completed showing that the frontal cortex electroencephalogram (EEG) patterns in subjects was reduced when they wore custom foot orthoses while they walked at a self-selected pace, while their EEG pattern was increased when they did not wear foot orthoses to walk.
Colin hypothesized that the orthoses reduced the frontal cortex activity by possibly reducing the neural processes that control walking gait patterns in the subjects they tested. Dr. Dombroski’s research has just been completed in the last few weeks

How cool is that?

Then there was this study that was registered in 2012 and has been noted as having been completed in which they were looking at the effect of barefoot running on autonomic nervous system parameters and mood. Hopefully we see some results in full from these two studies soon. Then, of course, we had this piece of pseudoscientific nonsense: Wearing shoes impairs intellectual development.

As always: I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise … and what is under the foot affects the brain. Exactly how and if this is positive or negative, we do not know yet….but, lets get rid of the gait analysis equipment and bring in the ECG!  😉

1. The only downside here is that this was published in a journal that is on Bealls list of predatory publishers. As I noted previously, I have a problem with that.

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One Response to Selecting the right running shoe based on brain activity

  1. Kevin A. Kirby, DPM January 25, 2015 at 6:41 pm #

    Good to see the central nervous system effects of foot orthoses getting more attention within the scientific literature.

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