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I'm the Denver Running Examiner at examiner.com and I just wrote an article about this. Please check it out and let me know what you think.
Hello! I wouldn't say this is "news" (the ChiRunning method, for one, has been sounding this alarm for a few years now) but I am glad to see it getting more attention now. Thanks for writing about it.
I don't know that there's a direct cause-and-effect here. My opinion is that such shoes promote or excuse poor form, which then leads to injury. Adding more and more cushioning and structure to running shoes probably sounded good on paper but in practice is not so great. (It's like texting -- efforts to expand human communication have led to its devolution into typing with thumbs on a tiny screen while driving! This is progress?) Overly cushioned, highly structured shoes dull your ability to feel the ground under your feet, and might even mask pain and other symptoms of injury. Some have ridiculously elevated heels as well, which cannot decrease your chances of twisting an ankle. However, I am not in the "barefoot running" camp either. I believe in protecting your foot from sharp rocks and shards of glass and snakes and thorns and dirt -- it's the 21st century, after all. I would love to think that someday my form would be so flawless and efficient that I could run in something that provides only external protection, like Vibram Five Fingers, but I'm not counting on it. My feet are trouble-free but they're not very thick-skinned.
I've only been running, and trying to learn as much as I can about running, for 2 1/2 years. A year ago I downgraded from a more cushioned shoe to a lightweight trainer with a lower-profile heel, designed for plain old neutral runners. That interim step worked very well for me, and I'd like to slowly transition to more minimal shoes as I gain experience and strength. You mention the Nike Free as an example of a minimal shoe, but what you might not realize is that each new model of the Free has had more cushioning than the last, somewhat defeating the original intent. Danny Dreyer, the founder of the ChiRunning movement, reportedly worked with another big shoe company to promote a shoe with less heel and less cushioning. As the story goes, evidently they didn't understand the concept and/or didn't believe there was a market for it, and added more cushioning to the shoe that went into production. FAIL. Perhaps now, with articles such as yours and the study that was referenced in it, shoe manufacturers will slowly start to steer the barge around. This is not to say that everyone will or should convert to minimal shoes, but a number of us will. (That, of course, may depend on how much they inflate prices in marketing this new "breakthrough.") Just my two cents' worth.
There have been a number of very interesting recent threads on this subject. I think it may be more accurate to say that the wrong types of running shoes, or shoes that are not properly matched to a runner's biomechanics, cause most (or at least many) of our injuries. Also note that the referenced study (which was the subject of another thread) included only runners with good biomechanics. Some of us do have poor biomechanics and need something more than minimalist shoes.
If I can use myself as an example - I overpronate significantly and have kneecap alignment issues. When I first started running, I used neutral-cushioned shoes since they were readily available, most of my running friends used them, and I didn't know any better (This was in the 1980's). The shoes had relatively little support and next to racing flats, were probably the closest thing at the time to minimalist shoes. In those shoes, about every 18 months I'd injure my knees - runner's knee, pes anserine bursitis, medial cartilage inflammation, you name it. I went to several different orthopedists over about a 12 year period and none of them could fix the underlying problem. Finally I went to a sports medicine specialist who put me in motion control shoes. OK, he also showed me quad strengthening exercises (which I have since done religiously). Bottom line is that was the end of the recurrent knee injuries. I have now been running in stability or motion control shoes since 1995 and if it weren't for them, I'd probably still be dealing with knee injuries.
@ 5K: Ontario Mills Run, Ontario, CA, 25:19
@ 10K: LA Chinatown Firecracker Run, Los Angeles, CA, 51:44
Yes, there is another similar thread on this same topic...
For me, I am supposedly a flat footed, overpronator. But I wear neutral running shoes and have no problems. Over a few years of running my flat foot has developed an arch - yes really! And my "overpronation" has corrected itself - yes really! (I have had gait analysis, so I know its true). I don't know if I can contribute those changes to any shoes I wear or whether it is just a function of my body become stronger in certain areas in response to running. I am the kid who always wore ugly corrective shoes growing up because my Mom was so worried about my "weak" feet! Of course that was back in the '60's and '70's so the protocol for that may have changed by now. I always feel a little secret vindication when I think of how I was never supposed to be able to run with my weak feet and yet now my feet never give me any problems whatsoever. Go figure....
My answer to the topic question is "I don't know!" For me, I'd say NO. But I don't think there is one definitive answer to that.
Thank you all for your answers and stories. I started getting interested in this topic about 18 months ago. For years I suffered with ITBS, and couldn't find anything to help. Obviously, I tried a lot of different shoes, from neutral, to stability, to motion control. After I read a few articles about the benefits of minimalist shoes, I started to experiment. I now buy the the lightest shoes I can find. They often offer minimal support. My trail runners weigh 7.5 ounces. My road shoe weighs 7 ounces. My ITBS suddenly cleared up (and I love running in really light shoes - I feel so fast!). I'm not ready for barefoot running. My feet hurt when I walk around the house without shoes on. I have found, however, that less is more, at least for me. I'll keep you posted on how things go, but for the last year and a half I have been completely sold on light shoes. I also wear-test for Saucony, so I get to try a lot of different shoes. My favorites are the light racers and trainers. Of course I weight 110 pounds, so I don't know if these would work for heavier runners. I'd be interested in that too.
There is an article in Runners Wolrd that actually discusses barefoot running in length with a few experts. If I remember correctly the consensus is that barefoot running is great for those people that do not have pre-existing injuries. I know I used to have issues with shin splints whenever I used to run, but ever since I started to run with minimalist shoes, I have not had any issues that linger. (usually self corrected within a few minutes).
runbetty, it's good to hear the minimal shoes helped your IT band issues. I have friends who struggle with that problem, and I'll share your experience with them. And I wasn't going to name names, but my beloved shoes (of which I bought 3 pair last year, fearing they'd be discontinued) are Sauconys so I'm envious of your wear-testing -- How cool! I can't wait to move up (or I guess it would be down) to even less shoe next time.
Marykb, at a ChiRunning workshop I attended last year, some people reported the very same thing -- their formerly flat feet were no longer flat. It works! The founder also corrected his own bowleggedness, over time. I read an article recently about a woman who teaches dance to people with cerebral palsy. Moving in new ways has helped change muscles and limbs that have been contorted their entire lives.That story is off-topic from minimal shoes, but it offers more evidence that one's biomechanics and physical infirmities are not (always) set in stone, and getting better feedback from our bodies seems to help. I think that's fascinating and encouraging.
Thought I throw in my two cents here. I attended a conference on running injuries in Boston last Saturday where there had a Podiatrist, Sports Medicine specialist, physical therapist and a biomechanics expert (who also owns a chain of running shoe stores). The biomechanics guy touched on barefoot running. He was not opposed to the idea despite owning a running shoe store. I came away feeling that there are different strokes for different folks as they say. He felt that barefoot running does strengthen the plantar fascia and other muscles that have gotten weaker because the running shoes do the work of the muscles by supporting the foot. (Think of all the folks lifting and working at places like Home Depot who use a weight belt to support their back when doing heavy lifting. With a weak back they need the support to avoid injuries but would they be better off gradualing strengthening the back to let the muscles to help with the heavy loads?) He also recommended changing up your shoes perhaps minimal support for shorter runs and more support for the longer run. IMO recent studies have shown that there are extra stresses on the joint when wearing running shoes. I think you'll be begin to see more shoe companies coming out with minimal support version of their shoe as well as the motion control for those who need orthotics and have other biomechanical running problems. I also think we will see more studies on foot strike patterns and perhaps a change in how therapists and trainers look at a runner's gait, perhaps looking to a mid foot or forefoot strike for some.
Plan your run and then run your plan.