A research study published in the Dec. 2009 issue of The Journal of American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation has found that wearing running shoes may actually cause osteoarthritis vs. running barefoot.
The study enrolled 37 women and 31 men who ran at least 15 miles per week. The subjects “running gait’s” then were evaluated running either barefoot or with a typical running shoe. The subjects had markers on their knees, hips and ankle joints, and as they ran, cameras picked up these markers, allowing the researchers to see how the joints moved.
The researchers found an increase in this torque for the knees, hips and ankles when the participants were wearing running shoes as compared with when they were running barefoot. Specifically in the study performed they saw a 38 percent increase in torque in areas of the knee where osteoarthritis develops. They were surprised by such a large increase because it was even greater than the increase in knee torque she had observed for women wearing high heels, which was only 20 percent to 26 percent.
Less is More…with running shoes
This and other studies, combined with so many injured runners finding success in barefoot techniques has created a resurgence in running more the way our bodies were designed to. People every where are losing their shoes and seeing great benefits. It’s not only for competitive athletes, barefoot running is gaining popularity across the wide and varied spectrum of runners.
One company leading the way with the minimalist shoes is Vibram and their innovative, groundbreaking FiveFingers shoe. Sure, you’ve seen them. These are the shoes that look like a glove but on your feet with a space for each toe. You may have seen people in water sports utilizing them, running in marathons, working out at the gym, or even just walking around town. No matter where you’ve seen them, one thing is for sure, you’re bound to be seeing many more FiveFingers popping up.
FiveFingers Sales Up by 400%
According to a news report by Fox Business News, Vibram increased sales by 400% from 2009 to 2010. And it just keeps growing. Their company manufacturing sites have grown from just one to now four, they have 100,000 FaceBook fans, and they’ve grown steadily and dramatically from just 24 national distributors to more than 500 worldwide distribution centers.
So what’s this craze all about? Why are so many runners opting to go barefoot or with minimal foot coverings? For some, it’s an attempt to finally kick a running injury, for others it’s simply a return to the way our bodies were designed to function.
For thousands of years we humans have been walking, running and living either barefoot or in sandals without chronic foot problems. Over the last few decades, however, we have seen many injuries popping up much more frequently like plantar fasciitis , iliotibial band syndrome (IT band) and achilles tendinitis. These ailments were very rare before the advent of today’s running shoe in the 1970s.
Intricately Created Feet Need to Move
The feet have twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints, and twenty muscles. Not to mention the hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons, and ligaments. When you wear shoes that confine the feet day after day, as most people do, the important muscles in your feet begin to atrophy and you lose range of motion.
That’s the beauty of FiveFingers. Your feet are protected from certain dangers in the environment, but you still get the feel of being barefoot which to most people is much more relaxing and comfortable than wearing shoes – especially all day long.
In addition, when you run or exercise or just enjoy your day in these biomechanically structured shoes, your feet will be getting stronger. The atrophied muscles will begin to strengthen, your balance will be stronger, agility better, and even posture improved. FiveFingers and barefoot running allow the body – including the intricate feet – to move as nature intended and leverages the body’s natural biomechanics.
What Avid FiveFingers Users are Saying
According to those who have jumped on the barefoot running and FiveFingers craze, they’ve seen dramatic improvements in how their bodies – especially their feet – feel. Many top athletes using FiveFingers and the like, report healing of previous injuries and reduction in current injuries they would normally incur during some of their routine running and exercises.
Author of Born to Run Endorses FiveFingers
In fact, author of Born to Run, Christopher McDougall was quoted by Fox Business News on the topic of barefoot running and Vibram’s FiveFingers for minimalist running.
“I have been researching running injuries and runners non stop and I think these Vibram FiveFingers could be the most important innovation in foot health.”
McDougal goes on to say,
“The only people who push back are people who make money off this; Podiatrists, running magazines, and shoe retailers.”
CEO of Vibram, Tony Post explained to Fox Business news that he believes there will always be some controversy but due to the ability of FiveFingers to strengthen the foot and leg muscles thereby preventing injury and utilizing the biomechanics of the foot Vibram and FiveFingers also has the endorsement of many from the podiatry community.
Other avid fans of barefoot running and FiveFingers agree that running without shoes or with minimal support allow them to perform better, suffer fewer injuries, and again strengthen foot and leg muscles.
According to Mike Osuna, who owns three Southern Florida CrossFit locations, one out of every three clients uses FiveFingers. Even his head trainer, Gio Pico, uses FiveFingers for all training.
“I think all it’s giving you is a little support and you’re using your body anatomically the way it’s meant to be used.”
The list of fans raving about FiveFingers is endless (remember their FaceBook page has more than 100,000 fans!) Many avid barefoot and minimalist foot wear runners encourage beginners to run or exercise with just barefeet initially.
Merrell Barefoot Running Shoes have the vibram rubber sole and very little cushioning
theRunningbarefoot.com  is a website to visit if you’re interested in running barefoot or with minimal foot support as so many are now doing. Another great resource is the book by Chris McDougall, Born to Run .
Should I lose the shoes and start running barefoot?
As with most other things in life we are learning that staying as close to the way we were created to live is really the way to optimal health and vitality. Again, with running barefoot and with utilizing Vibram’s FiveFingers you find another way to connect to your environment, get back to basics, and help your body grow stronger in the process.
Also, if you are beginning to walk or run barefoot or in minimalistic shoes like Vibrams follow the 10% rule and only increase your mileage by 10% a week. For instance your first month you may just start walking in them, the next month you may run 1 or 2 miles, and the slowly build your volume.
New Balance Minimus road running shoes have a little more cushion
I will tell you personally that I do run in Minimalistic shoes like Vibrams when I run on trails, tracks, or grass but on pavement I wear more of a neutral running flat.
Sources: Chris McDougall, Born to Run , Harvard Biological Skeletal Lab Study , NBC Miami Barefoot Running article , Vibram FiveFingers About page