By now you have probably seen people running in these glove like sneakers creations and wondered should I try them? Minimalist and barefoot running shoes have become very popular recently. A barefoot shoe is a shoe that really only provides protection from debris. They are very flexible and allow full range of motion of the foot. A minimalist shoe is more of a cross between a barefoot shoe and a traditional running shoe.
The minimalist movement claims that heavy padded running or walking shoes cause us to walk or run abnormally resulting in a higher rate of injury. The belief is that heavy padded shoes force us to land on our heel instead of the front of the foot. Minimalist proponents feel that the heel is designed more for balance and not shock absorption. By landing on the front of your foot the arch and calf muscles absorb this impact more efficiently.
In order to examine this debate further a recent study entitled Examining injury risk and pain perception in runners using minimalist footwear was published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine published on line on December 19, 2013. The study randomly assigned runners with a neutral shoe (Nike Pegasus 28), partial minimalist shoe (Nike Free 3.0 V2) or a full minimalist/barefoot shoe (Vibram 5-finger Bikila). The runners underwent an initial assessment and then started a 12-week training program for a 10km race. The numbers of injuries were then recorded during the 12-week period.
99 runners were included in the results of the study with 23 injuries reported. The neutral shoe (old school) had the fewest injuries (4), the partial minimalist the most (12), and full minimalist shoe (7). Runners in the full minimalist shoe had more shin and calf pain.
This study essentially refutes the claims of minimalist supporters. I feel that I am a bit biased on the whole standard running shoe vs. minimalist shoe debate. I typically see runners who have a biomechanical deformity of the foot and need modifications or extra support to their running shoes in order to continue. Practicing in an urban area I am also keenly aware of the hazards of running on the road and feel that a minimalist shoe does not provide adequate protection to the foot. That being said if you do try a minimalist shoe make sure you do a slow transition from a standard shoe to the minimalist shoe. Many reviewers of this study felt the 12-week training period was not long enough.
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