Soccer boots appear to change with a predictable frequency that has more to do with looks than a player’s functional needs or preventing injury. Your average pub or Sunday league player is more likely to buy a pair of boots that are worn by the latest premiership sensation than a pair that is right for their feet. If they stop to consider some of the following basic facts, function might start to take priority over fashion:
* A player will typically travel up to 12km during a match, making more than 500 ground/foot contacts per kilometre
* The average player spends 50% of the match running and has up to 300 contacts with the ball.
So what should budding Beckhams look for in a football boot? Mike Healy writing in Medicine Matters (‘Considerations in football boot selection’, Medicine Matters2005; 11:10-13, pub UEFA), points us in the right direction.
Fit and comfort
Feet fall broadly into three categories: flat, high- arched or neutral. They also have three width variations: wide, narrow and standard. Players tend to opt for a boot that is a size smaller than their ‘true’ shoe size in order to enhance ball control and feel. However, the ideal fitting boot should have a gap of 5-10mm between the tip of the longest toe and the tip of the boot. If the boot is too ‘roomy’ foot stability will be impaired and the player’s ability to accelerate and decelerate will be compromised. Heel and instep fit is important, as is a padded tongue. High heel tabs should be avoided to reduce the risk of Achilles tendon injuries.
Support, stability and motion control
The boot must provide a secure base of mechanical support and stability for the rear-foot at heel strike and at the mid-foot and forefoot as the foot is progressively loaded. The composition of the sole plus the general fit governs the degree of control. Most boots tend to force the foot to act as a single unit, limiting natural movement. Good heel fit will help control rear-foot movements and will provide stability on the foot during ground contact and ‘push-off’. If the boot lacks heel support the foot can over pronate, increasing rotation of the tibia and femur and the risk of injury. Other areas to look for are the arch support and high lacing systems, which will improve mid-foot stability and optimise foot function.
Cushioning (shock absorption)
Impact forces in excess of three times body weight are transmitted through a player’s musculoskeletal system with each strike of their heel. These forces are magnified further when landing from a jump. Football boots should distribute the impact load, disperse pressure, prevent focal compression and dampen impact forces. Unfortunately, according to Mike Healy, most boots are usually flat, offer little shock absorption and struggle to accommodate each and every foot type.
Grip is important; the outsole, stud type and stud configuration must allow for good surface penetration (grip). Factors influencing grip are:
i. the composition and arrangement of the outsole and studs
ii. the type and condition of the playing surface
iii. the weight of the player wearing the boots.
While some grip is good, too much grip can increase the potential for injury, particularly when decelerating and changing direction. If the standing foot is unable to escape from, or pivot in, the turf, lateral and rotational forces can impose shearing and torsional loads on the foot and joints of the lower limb. Healy suggests that this could be one explanation for a metatarsal fracture, and we can all name at least one international football player that has suffered from this type of injury.
Injury prevention and protection
Poor boot selection can predispose a player to unnecessary long-term injury. Boot selection should not be based on design, brand or sponsorship, but rather on proper fit, performance enhancement and injury prevention.