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Opinion

Minimalist running shoes pose injury threat

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November 21, 2013

Huaraches, Vibram Bikilas and Altras: to most people, these words are gibberish; but to a minimalist runner, these types of shoes are revered. Unfortunately, many runners who wear these thin-soled shoes are unaware of the associated dangers.

An obsession has taken over the entire running community. Companies advertise shoes that make feet feel barefoot. Runners who once swore by their 12-ounce motion-control trainers lace up 5-ounce shoes with minimal or no support and the non-runners are left confused, astounded, or disgusted when they see people run past with “toe shoes” or no shoes. Perhaps some runners are trying to be unique or stylish. Perhaps some believe that minimalist shoes allow them to run faster.

However, the primary concern should not be about style or speed, rather runners should be concerned with safety and health issues related to minimalist shoes. In the Runner’s World article, “Is Less More?” Bob Parks analyzes the effectiveness of using minimalist running shoes. He argues that shoes that imitate barefoot running are beneficial to runners because they not only improve running form, but also decrease the risk of injury. Although Parks accurately describes the benefits, not all people who run should try running in minimalist running shoes.

Tracing back through running history, one would find that minimalist shoes are not a new concept. Pheidippides, a Greek soldier, would have been wearing light-weight sandals with minimal support when he ran 26.2 miles in 490B.C., establishing the marathon as a popular running event. Later, Olympic athletes ran in absence of any form of shoes. In fact, as Bob Parks mentioned in his article, cushioned and supportive shoes were virtually non-existent before the 1970s.

If our ancestors were able to run successfully and injury-free without extra cushioning and support, one would believe that people today could run in minimalist shoes and not fear for injury. However, modern runners have become accustomed to wearing a supportive shoe which makes the transition from supportive to minimalist shoes dangerous. Shoes simulating barefoot running position a runner’s heel much closer to the ground than traditional, supportive shoes do.

Lowered heels force lower leg muscles act as springs to replace cushioning that the runner is lacking in shoes. As a result, minimalist runners may suffer from a wide variety of lower leg injuries such as Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis. Runners who argue that running in barefoot shoes force them to run on their forefoot instead of heel-strike are partially correct as many people start off running on their toes. However, maintaining a forefoot-strike for the duration of a long run takes a considerable amount of discipline since many runners will revert to their original, heel-striking form after they tire from the first few miles of their run.

While many runners believe that running only in minimalist shoes will turn them into a more efficient athlete, they have to keep in mind that barefoot running is only beneficial in moderation. Runners need to take transition time seriously, taking weeks or even months to fully transition to a healthy use of barefoot shoes and even then, the use of minimalist shoes should be limited.

Over the past few years, runners have showed off minimalist running shoes, oblivious to dangers. In the future, uninformed minimalist runners will be showing off their injuries, and eventually returning to a more traditional and supportive running shoe.

Hannah Timm is a sophomore majoring in professional writing and minoring in creative writing. When she graduates from UWRF, she intends to work as an editor.