Friday, September 28, 2012

Minimalist Shoes = Fewer Injuries?

Run lightly in those
 foot gloves!
So according to this article from Runner's World and the studies cited therein, Minimally shod runners are reporting injuries at less than one-third the rate of those wearing more supportive/cushioned/built up shoes. There are two important things I would like to point out about the study. The injury rates were self reported, and the study took out reports from those who had recently changed their shoe type or foot strike.

The self reported part of the study can cause some problems. There are some barefoot and nearly barefoot runners who are fanatic out there and are simply less likely to admit to injuries. I don't think that there are enough to account for the huge difference in injury rates. (46.7% vs. 13.7%) It could even be possible that the number of false reports could be made up for by the number of minimalist/barefoot runners who swear that they forefoot strike when they still heel strike, so the denialists could send the numbers either way. Therein lies the problem with self reported studies. The other study in the story was a more controlled study. In this one, forefoot strikers were only half as likely to get injured as the heel strikers. 

Why would they remove those who had recently changed their running habits? Simple, changing running style or changing shoes too abruptly can lead to injuries. For a long time, my wife got injured every time she bought new shoes. To digress a little bit, I think the real reason they say to change your running shoes every 300-400 miles is not that your old beaten up shoes with 894 miles on them are no longer good for your foot, but that changing from them to some that are still fully cushioned and supportive is too much of an abrupt change. Back on topic, it makes sense that they eliminated the runners who were in transition from the numbers.

This leads me to another question.

Why?

Why are we seeing lower injury rates among minimally shod runners? Changing your shoes for a foot glove or moccasin is not a magical cure all. As a matter of fact, if you are not careful it could be bad for you. The key is in running smarter. In my casual, non-scientific observations I have found that there is a group of people who start running and don't put too much thinking into it. They learn just enough to know that they need to go to a running store and get fitted for shoes that will correct their pronation or supination and they go and get shoes and promise to change them every 300 miles and they go out and run. If they get injured, they look for a shoe that supports or controls or cushions more. Kudos to those guys for getting out there and getting on their feet and taking control of their fitness, but I sure hope they will find a fix for injuries. Minimalist runners, on the other hand, seem to be more careful about what they do. They learn about barefoot running, they read lots of articles, they study running form, they transition into their new shoes/habits and they run more carefully. The ones who don't do this in their transition get injured and then switch back to supportive shoes.

So the difference may very well be in running smarter. Can one run smart in those high heeled running shoes? I guess so, but the more heel there is in the shoe, the more likely the heel is what will hit first, and studies are showing that heel strikers are suffering more.

Run smart everybody.