I’ve recently gotten back into the running game after about 15 years. Knee pain/swelling has really been a struggle since I was diagnosed with early-onset osteoarthritis just after my 30th birthday. Inspired by my fellow AEVUM members I decided it was time to run anyways. I started off using an older pair of shoes and one new pair I purchased. They both were pretty standard shoes designed for lots of cushion. It didn’t take long before I was back to painful swollen knees, particularly my right knee. I was having so much fun, feeling so good AND losing weight I forgot to pay attention to it. I was back to hobbling around, utilizing handrails and tight/painful/weak knees.
I really didn’t want to stop running. I felt fantastic. I tapered back my run frequency/length and started looking for solutions. Fancy cryotherapy pumps, herbal remedies, taping and shoes. My $3 ice pack seemed effective enough so I didn’t spend hundreds on a fancy icing system. I started taking turmeric and glucosamine because I might as well. Taping was out because I have a healthy leg of hair and removal is the worst. I was left with shoe research.
Every brand seems to have a max cushion shoe now. The market for them must really be growing. The problem was there are so many options in so many brands with so many different foams, how was I to decide? I also have wide feet and I remembered my Dad mentioning the brand Altra as being good for wide feet. I checked them out and they have a pretty cool story.
One of the founders grew up in a running store and after hearing numerous complaints from customers about foot/knee pain started modifying their shoes by putting them in a toaster oven, heating them up, cutting wedges out of the heel block and gluing them back together! With thousands of positive reviews he knew he was onto something. He and a buddy based their new shoes on 3 core ideas:
Footshape™ Toe Box
Altra's FootShape™ toe box allows the toes to relax and spread out naturally and the big toe to remain in a straight position for maximum stability and power.
Altra's Fit4Her™ technology caters to the specific form of the female foot, which has a narrower heel and midfoot, a higher instep, a longer arch and unique metatarsal spacing.
Every Altra shoe is built on a Balanced Cushioning™ platform that positions the heel and forefoot an equal distance from the ground. This natural foundation aids in optimal alignment, cultivates better form, and encourages a low-impact landing.
The first and third were really appealing to me so I thought I would give them a try. I ordered the Torin Plush 4 in a size 9. I typically have to size up to a 9.5 for the right width. They fit great. The upper is a really high quality seamless knit material and the Quantic foam feels really good. The first couple runs really had my shins and calves working hard, but I really didn’t notice after that. I ran progressively longer and longer up to 7kms with minimal swelling. I definitely feel it encourages more of a mid to forefoot strike with a bent knee. This combined with significantly more forefoot cushioning seems to take a lot of the impact away. I’ve been running with less knee swelling ever since.
I was so happy that I also picked up the Paradigm 4.5 in a size 9 to try it out. It has Ego foam instead of Quantic and a 30mm stack height vs 28mm. It feels a little narrower, but is fine if I loosen off the laces. The Ego foam to me feels very plush and maybe a bit less responsive. I feel like I can go even further with the Paradigm without swelling. I’m very happy with both shoes and have been rotating them on all my runs.
Altra seems to be gaining a lot of traction in the running world. Some have estimated the success comes solely from the increased forefoot cushioning. I think that does play a role, but the footshape toebox and zero drop shouldn’t be written off. Not having cramped toes and having a bent knee when the feet strike seems to be pretty important to me.
Give them a try if you’re looking to try something new or want to lessen impact on your joints! I currently have a pair of Superior 4 on their way to try when running trails and doing some light hiking. I appears I’m officially sold.