Penn State device asks: Which shoes are safe?

October 8, 2013 in Research

The cleated football shoe hit the ground with 237 pounds of force and pivoted abruptly in a counter-clockwise direction, as one might do while running a tight pass route.

But there was no human foot in the shoe, just Pennfoot.

It’s a device invented by Pennsylvania State University researchers to measure traction between shoe and surface, to help groundskeepers and sports teams minimize injury.

Athletes like a lot of linear traction so they can start and stop quickly. But Pennfoot measures its unwanted cousin: rotational traction – the amount of torque exerted on the shoe when it tries to pivot.

With too much torque, the shoe sticks in the grass while the leg keeps twisting and Рpop! There goes the anterior cruciate ligament.

“You want the shoe to pivot with you,” said Tom Serensits, manager of the university’s Center for Sports Surface Research.

Pennfoot was invented in the 1990s by Andrew McNitt, the center’s director and a professor of soil science, and other colleagues. McNitt used it to measure one or two kinds of shoes on a wide variety of surfaces.

But now, amid the continuing proliferation of specialized, high-tech footwear with various configurations of cleats, the turf researchers are finding that the type of shoe may play an even bigger role in traction than the surface.

Serensits and McNitt posted preliminary data last month on the rotational traction of 30 common athletic shoes on two kinds of grass and one synthetic turf, FieldTurf Revolution.
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