Do minimalist running shoes help prevent injury?

Continuing with our guest blog submissions, we’ve got a great new post looking at the minimalist running shoe craze.

As most runners are probably aware, minimalist shoes are currently all the rage. Proponents of these shoes believe that they are beneficial for both performance and health. Opponents, on the other hand, contend that these shoes only encourage runners to train without the proper injury support that they need. Where does the truth lie in this debate?

A minimalist running shoe (photo by Keegan Mullaney)

The short answer appears to be a wash: minimalist shoes can improve form and performance, but they also can lead to a greater risk of impact injuries. It really depends on the individual runner.

How can this conclusion be reached? Let’s briefly examine the minimalist running craze. For a shoe to be classified as ‘minimalist’ the heel-toe drop should be no greater than 7 millimetres.  This resulting lack of cushioning has a couple of key consequences: first, it insures that the shoe is light and lithe, making it more like a covered sandal than a piece of athletic wear. Second, the absence of heel cushioning discourages runners from  landing on their heels. Instead, runners must aim to land on their forefoot, ensuring a smoother and more anatomically-efficient running form. The movement towards minimalist shoes began in the past decade and then gained steam after 2009, when the publication of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run put new emphasis on the benefits of barefoot, natural running.

The main physiological argument for minimalist shoes is that landing on the forefoot is a natural way to absorb the impact of running. To test this, one could practice jumping up into the air and then landing in various places on their foot. If you land on your forefoot, your landing will likely be a soft one. Fall repeatedly on your heel, however, and you may find yourself wearing soccer braces after taking impact to the ankles and the knees.

The video below, originally published by nature has a nice description of the mechanics of barefoot running, including a study exploring the force profiles of a shod and barefoot runner.

 

The results of several studies have backed up these reasons. Runners who are heel-strikers are, indeed, more likely to get injured than are comparable runners who land on their forefeet. But the shoe itself plays little role in the equation. Many people who have made the transition from padded shoes to minimalist ones have reported an inability to adapt their role and a resulting jump in injuries now that their heel-striking tendencies have less cushioning and support. Meanwhile, runners who naturally land on their forefeet are likely to be healthier no matter what type of shoe they use.

So if you use a heavy, padded shoe and have spent most of your running career injury-free, you may see some small performance benefits from switching to a minimalist brand. But if you’re injury-prone, a strong heel striker, or a forefoot striker who doesn’t run short distance races, the possible benefits of a minimalist shoe are likely outweighed by the risks.

Ultimately, the best running shoe is the one that works best for the individual. Sometimes this may be a minimalist model. Other times, however, it may not.

“Jenna is a student by day and a blogger by night. Her favorite topics to write about online include business, finance, and Eco friendly writing. Some of her favorite activities include soccer and jogging. She hopes to someday write for a major publication and provide content to the masses.”

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