Advocates Cite Corrected Joint Problems

Detractors Say Minimalist Running Causes Heel Injuries

Lone JoggerCredit: Kim NewbergIn part 1, I described the Genesis of Barefoot Running. Barefoot running is a trend in running shoes, or lack thereof that has runners sprinting away from big box athletic shoe stores in droves. The theory, according to Christopher McDougall, author of “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” is that highly cushioned running shoes actually cause injuries and not preventing them.

In his book, McDougall looked at the running habits of the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico. In the Tarahumara tribe, men run into their advanced years with no injuries. These people often do not use shoes or only light sandals when they run.

Using this information, McDougall looked at Harvard Studies that contend that many running injuries occur when runners have an improper gait. When a runner places his foot down heel-first, they create a jarring impact that causes pain in the knees, hips and back. A natural gait such as the kind used by barefoot runners causes less joint pain. McDougall himself switched to barefoot running before writing his book, and says that his joint and leg pain has disappeared.

Runners who have either tried to run without shoes or have used newer shoes such as Five Fingered shoes have reported that the practice helped cure overpronation (the tendency to roll the foot inward when you take a step) and eased knee and hip pain.

But the barefoot running movement is not without its detractors. Improper running while barefoot (or in barefoot shoes) can increase heel injuries such as plantar fasciitis, where the connective tissue in the heel becomes inflamed. Although few runners in traditional shoes experience this condition, it accounts for nearly 90 percent of injuries that occur in barefoot runners.

To avoid injuries that could occur from running barefoot, Merrell, the makers of barefoot shoes, recommend a training regimen where new shoe owner start slowly and build up to running in their shoes. This added time allows the runner to develop a new gait and avoid injuries such as plantar fasciitis.

Some evolutionary biologists suggest that running shoes, like glasses, should be a personal choice. Just like not all persons have 20/20 vision, not all people can run perfectly. Some people roll their feet inward. Others roll their feet outward. So it follows that there is not a perfect shoe for all runners.

Part 3 - A Look At Minimalist Running Shoe Options