The vast majority of running injuries occur in the lower leg, ankle, and foot. In an effort to reduce running injuries, barefoot and minimalist running has gained popularity over the past several years. But how effective is barefoot running in injury prevention? To answer this question, we need to take a biomechanical approach.
Think back to physics class, and the concept of ground reaction force. This is the force exerted by the ground on the body with which it is in contact. At the time your body comes into contact with the ground, the ground exerts an equal and opposite force on your body. If we are barefoot or wearing minimal shoes, the theory is that these forces will be absorbed by the soft tissue and musculature that is designed to respond to this impact. That is, by the ankle, and the calf muscles.
So, why wouldn’t we all run barefoot if that is in theory the “best” distribution of ground impact. Well, the above case is true only for those who are actually landing on their midfoot when they run. By landing on the midfoot, which is what barefoot and minimal shoes are designed for, you are creating an increased amount of knee flexion (or bending of the knee). This is beneficial because there is less impact on the joint.
Sounds good, right? Well, not if you are a rearfoot striker, which most of us who wear a traditional sneaker to workout in, are. The sneaker is designed to increase the distribution of impact and loading on the shoe and away from our barefeet. Landing on the rearfoot increases extension on the knee, which the knee joint cannot tolerate without the aid of a shoe to help absorb some of these ground reactive forces. The group of people who suffer the most from injury are those that are running barefoot or wearing minimal shoes who do not change their stride to land on the midfoot.
So what is the moral of the story? Whether you want to run barefoot, or with minimal shoes, or wearing your new brightly colored kicks, I applaud your enthusiasm. Running is not a spectator sport, and no matter how you look at it, your body is going to have to make up for ground reactive forces somewhere along the chain. That being said, be sure to understand the way your foot lands, and what is happening to your knees and hips during the running cycle. Once you know the mechanics of your body, you can make appropriate shoe gear (or lack of) choices that will greatly impact your success as a runner.
If you are interested in learning more about your specific biomechanics, injury prevention, or are even currently suffering from an injury, feel free to get in touch with us at Performance Podiatry Partners. We would be happy to schedule an evaluation to keep you on your toes (or heels).