07/09/2013 08:28 am ET

Spring-Loaded Running Shoe Could Help Prevent Injuries

University of Central Lancashire

By Elizabeth Palermo, TechNewsDaily Contributor
Published: 07/05/2013 02:05 PM EDT

A new running shoe literally puts a spring in your step.

Researchers in the U.K. have developed a shoe that uses miniaturized pocket springs — the same kind used in mattresses — to absorb the shock of a runner's foot hitting the ground.

Developed by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), the experimental shoe will be on display at this year's Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which opened July 2 in London.

Injury affects more than 70 percent of recreational runners in a given year, despite continual advances in the design of running shoes, said Jim Richards, the lead researcher behind this spring-loaded shoe.

When a runner's foot hits solid ground, shock waves are generated, traveling up the leg and potentially leading to such injuries as shin splints (pain in the lower leg), runner's knee (inflammation of the knee) or stress fractures (tiny fractures, most frequently occurring in the shin bone).

Since the 1980s, running shoes have featured shock-absorbing cushioning that serves as a damper, helping to keep such injuries at bay. But the UCLan researchers suspected that runners needed more than extra cushioning to ward off injury.

"If you had a car suspension with just a damper and no spring in it, then you'd have a very bumpy ride," Richards said in a statement about this year's Summer Science Exhibition. "Therefore, having a shoe that incorporates both provides a much-improved shock-absorbing system compared with existing technology."

Teaming up with Harrison Spinks, a mattress manufacturer in Leeds, the researchers developed a lightweight microspring that can be embedded in the sole of a sneaker, providing runners with an increased uplift as they push off the ground. [See also: Are Humans or Technology Breaking Olympic Records?]

"By fine-tuning the springs and the damper arrangement within the shoe, we can optimize its shock-absorbing properties," said Richards. "We will also be able to tweak the arrangement for each individual runner, which is particularly important because everyone has a different running style and physiology that impacts the risk of different types of injury."

Visitors to this year's Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition will be able to try out a prototype of the spring-enhanced running shoe. Richards and his team will be on hand, accelerometers at the ready, to explain the science behind the shoe and, of course, to collect some additional data.

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