Barefoot Running/Minimalist Running Shoes: Injury Prevention or Injury Prone?

Do minimalist running shoes provide an advantage to runners or place them at risk for new kinds of injuries?  There are some recent studies that demonstrate the shoes are not for everyone.  While the minimalist running trend proposes that our ancient ancestors ran without cushioned feet, and therefore we would benefit from following their example,  recent research suggests that if that’s the case, a much longer break in period for the shoes should be in order for most runners, or some runners should avoid the shoes altogether.

The injuries minimalist runners may end up subjecting themselves to are stress fractures of the calcaneus (heel bone), the metatarsals (toes), and rupture of the plantar fascia.  In one study, over half of healthy, experienced runners demonstrated signs of severe bone stress after 10 weeks of running.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t use these shoes at all.  Rather, I propose a much longer “break in” period than what is typically recommended.  Generally, it’s 1 mile for the first week, 2 miles for the second, 3 miles for the third week, and then run all you want after that.  I propose doubling that amount:  1 mile for 2-3 weeks to allow for tissue break down and adjustment.  If no pain, progress to 2 miles for the same period.  No progression should occur if pain is present.  If pain is present, rest from the shoes should occur.

I also would strongly recommend that prior to purchasing a pair of these shoes, get an assessment of your running by an experienced physical therapist.  They will be able to recommend what is appropriate for your body, and if you do decide to purchase a pair of minimalist running shoes, can help design a running program for you that will help you avoid injury.  After all, isn’t that whole point of getting these shoes?


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