Barefoot and Minimalist Running: A Review of the Literature and Current Trends

Have you ever seen those shoes with the toes on the shelves at the running stores and wondered what those were all about? Have you heard people talking about minimalist running shoes and how they have helped their running technique? Maybe you have read the book, Born To Run and felt the story was intriguing but you are not sure if you could ever run like that.

Matthew Silvaggio, MSPT

Matthew Silvaggio, MSPT

with Matt Silvaggio, MSPT, CFMT

 

Have you ever seen those shoes with the toes on the shelves at the running stores and wondered what those were all about? Have you heard people talking about minimalist running shoes and how they have helped their running technique? Maybe you have read the book, Born To Run and felt the story was intriguing but you are not sure if you could ever run like that. During my community presentation I took a look at whether different types of running shoes and their effect on running technique, what the differences are between running with a mid-foot strike versus running with a heel strike, and what the trends were with running injuries and running technique.

There are different degrees of running minimally. Running barefoot would be the extreme example of running minimally because it involves running with no protection on your feet. The Five Fingers are shoes made by Vibram are the next level of minimal shoes. They have as little as 0.3 centimeters of material that make up the sole that separates the bottom of your foot from the ground. From here, take a shoe like the Brooks PureConnect, which has about 1.5 to 2 centimeters of total material under your foot. Traditional motion control running shoes that are the most common form of running shoes have upwards of 3 to 3.5 centimeters of material between your foot and the ground. Research has shown that when running barefoot, the foot has a natural tendency to run with a mid-foot strike/forefoot strike (land on the ball of the foot) and when running with traditional motion controlled, cushioned shoes the foot has a natural tendency to run with a rear-foot strike (land on your heel).

So what are the differences between running with landing on the ball of the foot versus landing on your heel and why is it important? When looking at large groups of runners, somewhere between 65% and 95% of runners will run with a rear-foot strike. One of the notable differences that were covered in my presentation between rear foot and mid/forefoot striking involves ground reaction force. It has been measured that the force under the heel when the foot strikes the ground (rear-foot striking) is 1.5-3.0 times greater than when mid/forefoot striking. This impact force has been speculated to increase the rate of injury in runners.

A notable review of the literature determined that between 19% and 79% of runners experience injury over 6 months to 2 years where as another study found that 37% to 56% or runners are injured during a period of one year. 

One study in particular seemed to make a strong case toward runners that forefoot strike has a decreased rate of injury when compared to runners that rear-foot strike at the collegiate level. From the opposite perspective, case studies have shown that transitioning (from motion controlled cushioning shoes) to running in minimal shoes like the Five Fingers has led to injury to the bones in the foot over a defined timeframe.

So is it the shoes that lead to injury or is it the foot strike that causes the injury? So far the research has not been able to clearly sort this out for us. But so far it looks like your running technique is more important than the type of shoes you wear. Individuals have been shown to run with either foot strike in either type of shoe (minimal or motion controlled). Strive to improve the efficiency of your running technique by using a running coach and utilize physical therapy services to screen for any standout asymmetries in your body mechanics and help you get through the running injuries that you may sustain.

Elite Health Services, located in Old Greenwich, CT is a world-class provider of certified functional manual based physical therapy, personal fitness, golf & triathlon performance training, massage therapy and wellness related services.  Our team of highly skilled and dedicated professionals take a no-excuses approach to providing exceptional care, and delivering exceptional results.

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