Advocates of trendy "minimalist"
running shoes promise a more natural experience, but runners in a new study
reported higher rates of injury and pain with the less structured shoes.
Three months after switching from
traditional running shoes to the minimalist variety, study participants had two
to three times as many injuries compared to runners who stuck with traditional
Minimalist footwear is designed to provide
as little interference to the runner as possible, study author Dr Michael Ryan
of Griffith University in Australia said. "Some models are really just
conventional running shoes without additional stability elements, while others
are so minimalist that they are essentially a 4 millimetre thick rubber glove
for your feet," he said.
Biomechanical studies in laboratories
indicate that running barefoot, or close to it, shortens a person's stride,
causing joints to flex less and theoretically leading to fewer injuries.
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For the new study, 99 adult runners in
Vancouver, Canada, started a three-month training program in preparation for
running a 10-kilometer race. They had never tried barefoot running or
minimalist running before.
A third of the participants were given
so-called partial-minimalist running shoes, or a full-minimalist shoe with
The final third got a traditional
structured running shoe, for comparison. Of the 23 injuries that happened
during the training period, four were among the runners wearing traditional
shoes, 12 among those wearing partial-minimalist shoes and seven in the
full-minimalist shoe group.
Proper running form
Runners using the full-minimalist shoes
also reported higher rates of shin and calf pain than the other
participants."This study supports what I and others have been arguing for
years," Daniel Lieberman, author of widely cited studies comparing
barefoot running to running with shoes, told Reuters Health in an e-mail.
"If you switch to minimal shoes or go
barefoot you need to (a) do so gradually so your body can adapt, and (b) you
need to learn proper running form," said Lieberman, who is chair of Human
Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and not
involved in the new study.
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But, Lieberman told Reuters Health he
would not go as far as calling minimalist shoes "worse" than
conventional shoes, at least not based on this study.
The runners did not transition gradually,
the study did not examine their running form, and it only included the initial
transition period to the new shoes, which many runners would adapt to over
time, he said. "What matters most for injury is how you run, not what is on
your feet, and this study only looked at the latter," Lieberman said.
In their report, published in the British
Journal of Sports Medicine, Ryan and his colleagues speculate that the runners
who switched to full-minimalist shoes may have been forced to change their
running form, and that might account for the highest injury rate being seen in
the group wearing partial-minimalist shoes."The injures these people had
were calf muscle strains and Achilles tendonitis, both temporary injuries one
expects to encounter while transitioning and which the body can and does adapt
to," Lieberman said.
Ryan said runners should not be discouraged
from trying minimalist shoes based on his group's results."Runners need to
be aware of the risks when running in minimalist shoes, but I still think this
footwear category has a big role to play in improving the quality of running
form and potentially reducing injury risk in the long term with proper guidance
from an experienced running coach or medical professional," he said.
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