The Cushioned Shoes Debate
A Closer Look at Maximalist Cushioned Shoes
Maximalist cushioned running shoes, characterized by their thick, soft, EVA foam outsoles designed to provide maximum shock absorption, have become increasingly popular among walkers, nurses, teachers, and runners alike. They are super lightweight and comfortable right out of the box. Dig a little deeper and the reviews are all over the place; great for some wearers and not so great for others. Peel back another layer of the onion, and it is worth noting that there is some emerging research that suggests high cushioned shoes may not be ideal for long-term foot health. As with most things nowadays, there are studies and opinions all over the internet. We, of course, encourage you to find a source that you trust, and do your own research. Like ROK n ROLL™ by Alegria (which are not maximalist cushioned outsoles, but are instead made of the more traditional long-lasting polyurethane and rubber), most of the sneakers in this category are in the $140 and up range, so they're not exactly cheap. And, it's widely accepted that the soft EVA outsoles of the high-cushioned shoes wear down rather quickly. Either way, this is an investment that is worthy of some research.
One cautionary observation worth noting that spoke to our nerdy nature is that maximalist shoes can alter gait mechanics, leading to less activation of the foot’s intrinsic musculature. Over time, this reduced muscle activation may contribute to foot instability and weakened arch support, both of which are risk factors for plantar fasciitis. Additionally, the enhanced cushioning may dampen sensory feedback from the ground, making it more challenging for the wearer to adapt their gait dynamically, thereby potentially increasing stress and microtrauma in the foot's soft tissues. This could compound the risks for foot disorders and other lower extremity injuries. So, while maximalist cushioned shoes may offer short-term comfort and relief, their long-term impact on foot biomechanics and health warrants caution and further investigation.
Without question, maximalist cushioned shoes are super cozy, but there is a lot of that thick EVA foam between your foot and the ground. Though the thinking here is that the foam absorbs some of the shock, some research has shown that this isn't always a good thing. In one study, researchers from the Spaulding National Running Center found that highly cushioned shoes are actually not linked to lower levels of impact. They found the opposite to be true because of what the wearer naturally does when wearing a high-cushioned shoe. The study showed that among runners these highly cushioned EVA foam outsole shoes come with a higher vertical average load rate and vertical instantaneous loading rate, both of which may promote overuse injuries like stress fractures and plantar fasciitis. So while highly cushioned shoes for plantar fasciitis can help in some ways, they might also be hurting. In a direct quote from one of the coauthors of the study: “People actually land softer when they have less cushioning,” said study coauthor Irene S. Davis, PhD, PT, a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and director of the Spaulding National Running Center. “Cushioning actually lulls you into thinking you can slam your foot into the ground.”
On the positive side, there are undeniable advantages to these highly-cushioned outsoles that should be acknowledged. For one, EVA is an extremely lightweight material, making shoes with EVA outsoles comfortable to wear for extended periods without feeling weighed down. As such, many of the maximalists cushioned shoes do allow you to walk or run greater distances, and even propel your movement, and that's a wonderful thing. And, they do appear to help a significant number of people by reducing stress on joints due to the shock absorbing nature of EVA foam. That's fantastic, especially if the impact is not from a repetitive motion such as running. As a matter of fact, Alegria is also coming out with a line for Spring '24 called "ReBounce" which is going to feature some of the very same ultra-lightweight EVA with rubber outsoles discussed here. Obviously, different shoes are going to work for different folks. There isn't a one-size fits all solution when it comes to sneakers. But, if you've found that the maximalist cushioned shoes have not done the trick for you, then don't despair. There are still a number of traditional running / walking shoes that can greatly benefit your overall foot and lower body health.
In contrast to the thick maximalist cushioned EVA foam outsole, ROK n ROLL™ features a long-lasting durable polyurethane and rubber outsole, a reinforced heel cup for lasting durability, built-in arch support, and a slip-resistant non-marking outsole that is designed to correct pronation and promote full body alignment. Not having that lightweight EVA foam outsole does make ROK n ROLL™ shoes about 2 ounces heavier, and you'll feel that sturdiness right out of the box. More importantly, your feet and lower body will notice the increased stability over the long term. Note that all ROK n ROLL™ by Alegria styles have been awarded the American Podiatrist Medical Association (APMA) Seal of Acceptance for promoting good foot health and normal foot function. No matter which brand of shoes you choose to go with, if foot health is important to you, then you may want to make certain that the model of shoes (not just the brand) you purchase have this important and universal seal of approval. Your feet and lower body will thank you.