Myth: You Need the Latest and Greatest Running Shoes for Injury Prevention.
So it is now summer, and you can stuff those scratchy wool socks into the back of your closet for the next several months; don some deck shoes or driving mocs without socks, slide into those long ignored sandals … or strut around the way nature intended: shoeless entirely. While it may be socially unacceptable, and frankly a little unhygienic to walk around town barefoot, isn’t this the way we were intended to move through space? Weren’t our feet designed to move us along the ground using the elastic properties inherent in their muscles and tendons and bones for structure and support? If you listen to the large and ever-present shoe companies – Nike, Adidas, Clarks, Jimmy Choo – you might get a different impression about the utility of those funny shaped appendages at the ends of our legs.
In reality, every function needed for mobility, locomotion, and balance while standing upright is already present in our feet. Wearing shoes can actually exacerbate underlying conditions, if not create new ones. For example, even the least structured and supportive shoes are created with an elevated (and usually softened) heel support, which impedes ones natural gait. This soft and elevated heel allows you to land on the thin skin and minimally cushioned heel of your foot, which would never happen if you weren’t in shoes. Landing on your heel is also less efficient – in the neighborhood of 4% more energy expenditure – than landing on the ball of your foot with soft, smooth steps. Over time (how long have you been wearing shoes?) the subtle lift of the shoe will also actually start to shorten your Achilles tendon and calf musculature. This has dire consequences throughout your body’s kinetic chain: decreasing mobility of the ankle joint, decreasing available knee extension range of motion, increasing patellofemoral shear forces, shortening the leg hip flexors, and potentially more issues farther up the body.
In fact, studies even indicate that injury rates may be greater for shod runners than barefoot runners. In Haiti, for example, lower extremity injury rates are substantially higher in those wearing shoes (Robbins and Hanna, 1987). Robbins and Hanna also suggest that plantar fasciitis (a very common runners injury affecting the supportive connective tissue running along the bottom of the foot) may be decreased in runners who doff their shoes frequently. They postulated that the impact from foot strikes is transferred to the more elastic musculature sparing the fascia. More recently, Robbins and Grow (1991) found that individuals wearing expensive “corrective” running shoes reported more injuries than those wearing less expensive (less structured) shoes. Bergman et al. (1995) also found that forces at the hip were lower when running barefoot, implying that forces throughout the body were less significant than with shoes. So, what does this mean for those who just want to be healthy and move? How about spending sometime with your shoes off? Running barefoot might not be for everyone, but that doesn’t mean some unshod time won’t be good for you. Gradually increase the time you spend without shoes, and maybe you will notice that you are moving better, your balance improves, and some of your ailments disappear.
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