Stable equilibrium during locomotion is required for both superior performance of sports and prevention of injuries from falls. A recent report indicated that currently available athletic footwear impairs stability in older men. Since this discovery, if confirmed, seems important to both competitive athletes and the physically active general public, we performed an experiment using similar methods on a younger population. We tested the hypothesis that midsole thickness is negatively, and hardness positively related to dynamic equilibrium, in 17 healthy adult men (mean(s.d.) age 33(11.13) years) via a balance beam method. Subjects walked along a 9-m long beam at 0.5 m s-1 once barefoot and six times wearing identical pairs of experimental shoes which differed only in midsole hardness and thickness which spanned the respective ranges currently available in footwear. Falls from the beam (balance failures) were quantified. Balance failures varied significantly in relation to midsole hardness and thickness, and there was a strong trend toward interaction of these variables (P = 0.09). Midsole hardness was positively related to stability, and midsole thickness was negatively related, which confirms the previous report. Hence, shoes with thick-soft soles, similar to modern athletic footwear and 'walking shoes', destabilize men, and shoes with thin-hard soles provide superior stability. The pair with the poorest stability (A 15-thick; 12.34 balance failures per 100 m) produced 217% more balance failures than those associated with the best stability (A 50-thin; 3.89 balance failures per 100 m). Since most types of athletic footwear and many other shoes incorporate midsoles with hardness and thickness associated with poor stability, we conclude that both athletic performance and public safety could be enhanced through stability optimized footwear.
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