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Finding the Right Cleat for the Job

Cleats are a class of athletic shoes with protrusions, or studs, on the sole of the shoe. Cleats are typically used in sports played on grass or turf surfaces, such as football, soccer, baseball, and lacrosse. The number of different brands and models of commercially available cleats can at times be overwhelming, leading the athlete to wonder which type of cleat is best for their chosen sport.

Cleats may be rubber or metal, and permanently attached or removable. Metal cleats are not allowed in certain sports due to risk of injury to other players, and athletes should be aware of these restrictions. Different sports may require certain types of cleats to account for variations in playing surfaces and athletic demands. Cleats are offered in firm, hard and turf conditions. Rounded cleats are typically rubber and located around the outside of the shoe, with most of the cleats located in the toe region. Blade cleats are more rectangular in shape with varying orientations based on their location in the shoe.

The ideal cleat will give the athlete the appropriate level of traction for the typical playing surface. Too little traction leaves the athlete at risk for falls, particularly in wet or muddy conditions. However, excessive friction may “lock” the foot in place and put the athlete at risk for injury. This is a particular concern for knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament tears, as the majority of these injuries occur during twisting or cutting maneuvers without contacting another player. The number of different brands and models of cleats can be overwhelming, leading the athlete to wonder which one is best.

Many studies have looked at cleat design on risk of injury. Both rounded and blade cleats may increase pressure in the toe region of the foot, potentially putting athletes at risk for foot bone fractures. While turf shoes have been found to decrease this pressure, the turf shoe provides significantly less traction and is not the ideal shoe for “natural” surfaces. There has been some concern in professional soccer leagues that blade cleat designs may put athletes at higher risk for outer foot injuries as well as knee injuries. Research comparing injury rates between round and blade cleats offer conflicting results, and no clear scientific evidence proves a link between blade cleats and athletic injury.

In summary, the athlete has a variety of cleat materials, shapes and geometries to choose from. The right cleat should be comfortable and provide the needed traction regardless of cleat shape or orientation.

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