There is a considerable amount of literature on how shoes can negatively affect our biomechanics and increase the likelihood of injuries. For those interested in delving into this topic, I highly recommend reading “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. In fact, Jon Stewart from The Daily Show has said that this book will make you realize that the secret of happiness could be right at your feet.

Fast bowler view point: During a conversation with a fast bowler in the nets, I asked why they weren’t bowling fast that day. The cricketer replied that they weren’t wearing spikes and were fearful of getting injured. I wondered how someone could be afraid of something that comes so naturally to them. This question prompted me to research this subject many years ago when I first published an article on LinkedIn. Here’s what I discovered:

Science fact: When we run or jump, the impact on our legs can be up to twelve times our body weight. Despite this, we love to run, which suggests that our feet enjoy a good beating. However, there is a myth that shoes with cushioning and spikes reduce the impact on our foot muscles.

Study: Steven Robbins, MD, and Edward Waked, Ph.D., from McGill University in Montreal conducted a series of tests on gymnasts and found that the thicker the landing mat (more cushion), the harder the gymnasts stuck their landings. They were instinctively searching for stability. Now, imagine a shoe with a thick sole and nails at the bottom.

Evidence: Cushioning does NOTHING to reduce impact.

Fact: Spikes are a necessary requirement in cricket shoes, as they provide better grip on the surface and reduce the chances of slipping or falling. However, this article focuses on understanding foot mechanics and finding ways to minimize the negative effects of spikes on our feet. Cricket shoes with spikes make heel strike more common and therefore increase contact time with the ground and put extra pressure on muscles. This can lead to less time for foot action to complete, from dorsiflexion to plantar flexion.

Foot biomechanics play an essential role in maximizing output with the least amount of energy. The longitudinal arch provides support in landing, the transverse arch helps with plantar flexion, and the medial arch withdraws force from the ground to help take off from the ground. All the arches provide support to muscles, ligaments, and bones. However, in cricket shoes with spikes, the longer ground contact time due to the nails hitting the ground puts more pressure on the foot muscles. This means that the traditional running approach/biomechanics cannot be followed in this situation, especially in a bowling action.

The size and position of the spikes and how well the foot fits into the shoe determine which way the foot can move, how to jump, land and shuffle to balance. The foot muscles and arches would inadvertently seek compensation, as take-off cannot be delayed, and the kinetic chain cannot be stopped. Thus, the foot has to compensate at different levels to take off, withdrawing energy from the ground without the full springiness of the medial arch, which is our natural way.

For example, fast bowlers often cut the shoe leather in front of their big toe to make room for their foot, looking for stability. However, this does not allow maximum force to be drawn from the ground while moving and withdrawing force from the ground. Players may change shoes, but they still struggle to move their foot because they do not understand why they are looking for stability. It is essential to understand why it happens and find ways to work with our natural foot mechanics instead of relying on shoe design.

2nd hypothesis: Improper foot mechanics can be a common issue in running, where the shoe takes control and drives the foot rather than the other way around. When running, the forward foot should move in a downward, backward, and stroking motion, rather than a punching or pounding motion, which can occur with a heel strike. In the case of a heel strike, the ankle, knee, and hip joints can become locked, slowing down forward momentum before take-off. This can cause weakness in the ankle, knee, hip, and lower back joints. A key rule for proper running form is to lean forward

Study: Contrary to popular belief, spikes can actually increase the impact on joints, rather than reduce it. Research published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy has shown that cushioned or protected underfoot can cause a foot to land with the same impact as a flat foot surface due to fear. When wearing spikes, the foot must adjust to the shoe’s movements, which can put extra stress on the ligaments, tissues, joints, and muscles.

Evidence: Spikes do not reduce impact

Additionally, spikes create a gap between the foot surface and the ground, making it impossible for the arc to hit the ground and withdraw force to its potential. This can result in extra work for muscles, improper foot mechanics, increased impact on joints, and less force withdrawal from the ground.

Batsman vs. Bowler spikes: Although they may appear similar, there are technical differences between the two types of cricket spikes. Batsman spikes lack nails under the heel, reducing ground contact time. However, players with a heel strike action may still experience issues, as they cannot take optimal advantage of their arches or follow the 4-step biomechanical process. Proper training can help cricketers use their spikes to propel themselves forward, rather than just as a guard to prevent slipping.

In terms of solutions, it is essential to train to meet the demands of cricket while considering the real-time situation. While spikes are important for the game, companies could consider developing alternative studs that can grip into hard pitch surfaces. In the absence of such alternatives, it is crucial to minimize the effect of spikes on foot architecture via proper training.

Coaches should not pressure young cricketers into buying spikes if they do not already wear them. It is not a crucial tool and should only be considered once the athlete reaches a certain level of skill and speed, where slip/skid injuries become more of a risk. Let spikes be a personal choice rather than a compulsory guard, to avoid compromising the athlete’s potential.

To read how this translates into injuries, read my research article on the subject

Umesh Chhikara

Sports Scientist