Most of you reading this blog post wouldn’t consider running in your birthday shoes [bare feet] but that’s just about what you’re doing with the latest minimalist running shoes. The manufacturers’ instruct you to ease into wearing the shoes but this could cost you a stress fracture like one recent patient.
Going natural isn’t always a good idea So what are minimalist or “minimal-drop” shoes? The latest fad in shoes offers less cushioning and are thus lower to the ground than traditional running shoes. They have less stride-controlling structure and have a lower heel-to-toe ramp angle, or a more gradual drop from where the heel and forefoot sit, allowing the foot to sit almost level in the shoe.
For years, running shoes were built with heel-toe drops from 12 to 15mm, which means your body has been balancing itself in a plantar-flexed position — in other words, your toes are pointing downward and your Achilles tendon* and calf muscles are in a relatively shortened position.
When you run with a lower heel (either completely barefoot or in some type of minimalist or minimal-drop shoe), you’re forcing your Achilles and calf muscles to operate in a lengthened position and that can mean a trip to the doctor.
A running stride begins on the heel moving to the ball of the foot and finally lifting off with the toes. With the minimal shoe, running strides are shorter and consist of ball to toe only. This shorter stride means your weight lands on the ball of the foot. By shortening the stride, the Achilles tendon is stretched in short motions going against the way the foot and calf are designed to work.
Consider using these shoes only in short increments [preferably not at all]. Take these shoes rock climbing to protect your foot like a second skin and have an incredible grip. It is almost like having gecko feet.
*Achilles tendonitis is the inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the fibrous tissue that attaches the calf muscle to the back of the heel bone, causing pain and swelling. The causes of Achilles tendonitis include overuse of the tendon, overly tight calf muscles, misalignment and improper footwear.
I was out running yesterday, enjoying the warmer weather and trying to rack up my training miles for the Fairfield Half Marathon. I ran past another runner and my eyes were drawn to her fluorescent pink sneakers which, upon closer examination, I noticed were no ordinary sneakers but those with 5 toes! Really just a thin covering of her feet. I noticed how she gingerly ran over a gravel driveway and it got me wondering about the benefits of these skin-like running shoes and why they have become so popular. After much research online, I discovered that, not surprisingly, there are opposing opinions on the merits of barefoot running and minimalist shoes. Those in favor of barefoot running say that it is a much more natural way to run, the way our bodies were designed to run. The barefoot runner tends to land more on the mid-foot than with a heel strike, resulting in less impact on the heel and potentially fewer heel injuries than with running shoes. Podiatrists and the American Podiatric Medical Association on the other hand feel that barefoot running can cause injuries ranging from Achilles tendonitis to severe bruising of the soft tissue of the foot from landing on a rock. The argument from both sides is that there are not enough studies to support the merits of barefoot running or the merits of running in sneakers. Those against barefoot running argue that the few studies that have been conducted were sponsored by Vibram and Nike and are therefore skewed. One thing that both sides agree on is that whether you run barefoot or in sneakers, you should adjust your form accordingly to prevent injuries.
Barefoot running has enjoyed a lot of media coverage in recent years, especially since the launch of the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall which chronicals the author’s quest to answer the question “Why does my foot hurt?” In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world's greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong. McDougall points out that 50-80% of runners in running shoes are injured every year.
Dr. Doug Richie, a Sports Podiatrist warns that running barefoot significantly changes your running style and unless you are conditioned and trained to run differently, you are likely to experience injuries.
The debate is likely to continue and heat up again now that running season is in full swing again with the warmer weather. Whatever your choice, it’s always a good idea to consult with a physician before embarking on something new and different!