How you lace your shoes does truly matter (according to this study).
We have talked about shoe lacing on more than one occasion. Everyone has played around with different laces and lacing strategies at one time or another. And, every shoe seems to lace just a little differently. Some shoes lace far into the forefoot, some have the potential to lace high up into the ankle. But just because there are eyelets there, doesn’t mean you have to thread a lace through the hole. It is about fit the majority of the time. Some of our runners will use “skip” lacing to avoid pressure over the dorsum of the foot, especially if they have a saddle exostosis or hot tendon in that area, much of the time this works to alleviate the pain and pressure there. Just remember, impaired ankle rocker often via weakness of the anterior compartment muscles (toe extensors, tibialis anterior, peroneus tertius) will force dorsiflexion moments into the midfoot and can cause some joint-related compressive pressure on the dorsal foot which can seemingly (and mistakenly) come from shoes tied too tight across the top of the foot. Be sure to consider this fact before you “skip lace” your shoes, it is a big player, one we see all of the time.
In today’s journal article found below, we discover some other factors in a controlled study. Here they look into the effects of lacing on biomechanics in running, specifically rearfoot runners. The results of the study showed reduced loading rates and pronation velocities as well as lowest peak pressures under the heel and lateral midfoot in the tightest and highest laced shoes. Whereas, the lower laced shoes resulted in lower impacts and lower peak pressures under the 3rd and 4th metatarsal heads (they proposed that this was from forward foot slide in the shoe because of this lacing). The study authors concluded
A firm foot-to-shoe coupling with higher lacing leads to a more effective use of running shoe features and is likely to reduce the risk of lower limb injury.
Remember, this is just data for you to cogitate over. It can help you work through some possible issues with your feet and your sport, however it does not translate to everyone as a standard protocol. Remember this, we have been known to say, “your problem is not often the shoe, it is the thing in the shoe (you and your faulty biomechanics)”. However, blaming your problems on you is not good shoe manufacturer advertising, so many shoe companies will offer a plethora of shoes choices for you to accommodate to your variables. This does not necessarily mean the problem is solved, rather it is often managed by a “better” shoe choice that seems to work for your variables. This is a good thing most of the time, if you understand shoes, shoe anatomy, and human anatomy (foot types) so that you can pair them up for a best outcome. The problem may lie in the fact that your shoe fitter is not likely to have all of the necessary pieces to put your perfectly matched picture together, including understanding your total body biomechanics and possibly understanding why a weak glute is impairing hip extension and thus limiting ankle rocker motion, causing premature heel rise, and thus forcing too much dorsiflexion into the arch of the foot and premature forefoot loading causing what seems to be too tightly tied shoes.
What we truly need an e-Harmony for matching shoes and feet ! But since that perfect scenario doesn’t often exist at the shoe store level or gait analysis level, here at The Gait Guys we have put together the next best thing, The National Shoe Fit Certification Program if you care to take this all to the next level.
Shoe fitting is an art, and lacing is just another paint brush you can use to get the job done. You just have to know what brush to use for each given piece of art (ie. the athlete).
Shawn and Ivo, The gait guys
J Sports Sci. 2009 Feb 1;27(3):267-75. doi: 10.1080/02640410802482425.