Barefoot Running – Melina Mirzaei, Kinesiologist

There has been a lot of hype around the barefoot/minimalist running trend over the last few years. There is not a huge amount of research to back up the idea of minimalist shoes over traditional shoes, but there is some information out there that can help you better decide between the two.

Are there benefits to wearing a minimalist shoe?

The idea behind barefoot running shoes is that they mimic a natural stride- more specifically, a forefoot strike pattern, shorter stride length, and higher cadence. There are some claims that they help prevent running injuries which result from the traditional heel-striking pattern. However, there are currently no studies that show evidence of injury reduction by using a minimalist shoe (Rixe, Gallo & Silvis, 2012). Recent studies indicate that injuries may simply occur in different parts of the body than in traditional running shoes. An as yet unpublished study found that, in a 10k training program (3 runs per week), runners in minimalist shoes sustained more foot and ankle injuries, versus runners in a traditional neutral shoe, who had more hip and knee injuries.

Should I make the change?

If you have been running in regular running shoes for a long time without any significant, nagging injuries, making an abrupt change from a regular, cushioned running shoe may not be beneficial in the long-term. The transition from full-time running in regular shoes to minimalist shoes could potentially bring on injury, or some new aches and pains at the very least. In addition, it has been hypothesized that non-elite runners with less consistent running mechanics may be more susceptible to changes in gait when going from a more supportive to a minimalist shoe (Bonacci et al., 2013). If you are injured, consider seeing your Physiotherapist for an assessment before making a drastic change in your footwear.

If you are considering changing your shoes, you should include some training drills to improve proprioception, balance, flexibility and strength in the feet, ankles and legs (Rothschild, 2012). Running drills to fine-tune your form, as well as increasing overall barefoot activity (ex: around the house) can be beneficial to ease the transition into minimalist shoes. Since many other factors beyond your feet affect your risk of injury, take protective steps by ensuring that your core, glutes and leg muscles are in tip-top shape.

A word of caution…

Yes, some people can run in minimalist shoes without injury. Others, however, are much more likely to get injured if they are running without the support and cushioning of a regular shoe. For example, if you have:

  • bunions
  • decreased sensation in your feet (for example, due to neuropathy)
  • very high arches

you may not benefit from minimalist shoes.

In addition, there are currently no studies that have been done on the impact of minimalist shoes in runners completing more than a 10k training program. Therefore, the purported benefits of these shoes may not apply to those training for full- and half-marathons.

Take-home message

Minimalist shoes can be a good tool to use as part of your training, but they are not for everyone, nor are they a cure-all for injuries. Minimalist shoes do appear to decrease heel-striking and encourage a mid/fore-foot strike pattern (Bonacci et al., 2013), but there is no evidence that they reduce injury rates. When buying shoes, you want to make sure that you are getting the best pair for you. This will depend on many factors, including your overall biomechanics, strength and other daily activities. Don’t be afraid to try on many pairs until you find the right ones!

If you have any questions about running biomechanics, shoes, or strengthening, contact us at 604-569-3891 to book an assessment with a Physiotherapist!

References

Bonacci, J., et al. (2013) Running in a minimalist and lightweight shoe is not the same as running barefoot: a biomechanical study. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47: 387-392.

Rixe, J.A., Gallo, R.A. & Silvis, M.L. (2012) Current Sports Medicine Reports, 11(3): 160-165

Rothschild, C. (2012). Running Barefoot or in Minimalist Shoes: Evidence or Conjecture? Journal of Strength & Conditioning, 34(2): 8-17.

 

 

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