A review of football boot research
By PETE ROY Senior Technical Officer (Mechanical), LASRA
The popularity of football has, not surprisingly, been accompanied by an increase in foot related injuries. For coaches, trainers, players, parents of young players and health care practitioners, it is helpful to understand what roles construction will play in both causing and preventing injury, as well as how custom orthoses (an internal device applied to the body to relieve symptoms of pain or improve function) can be incorporated into an overall injury treatment or prevention program.
To accommodate studs or blades, footwear is constructed with a flat insole. Often this is a solid material reinforced to prevent penetration of stud sockets or mouldings. It can create a lack of torsional support for the mid foot along the longitudinal arch, allowing excessive pronation (inward rotation and compression/collapse of the arch) or supination (outward rotation and rising of the arch). There may be little or no cushioning to absorb shocks at heel strike. Excessive pronation or supination, especially for players with these biomechanical problems outside of the sport, combined with repetitive shock/stress, can lead to injuries such as heel pain, shin splints, and knee pain.
In addition to this, such footwear is made with a ‘low profile’ upper style (like a shoe) and therefore may provide less support for the ankle and rear-foot. This results in an increased possibility of injury. These injuries can include sprains and twisted ankles, due to the twists and turns inherent in the sport which can affect knee, hamstring and Achilles tendon areas.
Most footwear is a reinforced composite of several materials with high quality footwear often made from soft leather and less expensive versions made from synthetic materials. Good fit and support are crucial, and stretch control must be incorporated. If shoes are known to ‘give’ or stretch, there is a tendency to buy with small fit and risk injury to the many muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones in the foot.
In addition to the stretching issue, many players simply prefer tight fitting shoes (even well-known international players) because they believe that this will give better response/manoeuvrability, feel for the turf and the ball, and help hold the boot on the foot during play. This may not be based on sound thinking because a boot worn too tight changes the functionality and biomechanics of the foot. Constriction of blood flow and musculature can occur. The result can adversely affect performance, hindering ball control during play and / or lead to injury.
Buying larger football boots and filling the space with extra socks is also not sound practice as it allows the foot to slop around inside the shoe, leading to potential foot and ankle injuries.
Shoe fit affects the placement of the studs, which is very important for foot health. A well fitted boot will have studs in strategic places relative to foot bones. A shoe worn too big or too small will result in a stud being directly under joints. The constant shocks and stress experienced during training or a game can result in serious injuries to this region.
Custom Orthoses (Orthotic foot beds):
The use of custom made orthoses could be seen as balancing the wearer to boot interface, as no single boot can be made to suit all players perfectly. With correct design, material selection, trialing and production, manufacturers can increase the comfort levels and the performance of the boot. This can enhance reputation and sales. The art or science of balancing out the flat and firm insole, thus reducing the likelihood of injury to the player, increasing ball control and reducing fatigue can only be an advantage. It is not necessary for the orthoses to be corrective unless there are underlying pathologies in the foot, a semi rigid support will offer the best compromise as fully rigid supports are often not tolerated well by players.
Another area of fit that should be considered is the way the footwear is laced, wrapping lacing under the foot to reduce heel slippage would not be required if the boot fitted well. Proper support where needed along with flexibility where needed is a long searched for holy grail.
In conclusion football boots should be bought to fit the foot, the flex point of the footwear should be matched to the foot, and a boot with a similar volume to the foot should be selected. The appropriate medically supervised use of fitting aids and semi rigid sports orthoses will increase performance and reduce the risk of injury.