Whether or not you are a runner, you have probably seen people running or walking around in five-finger shoes. For a long time, runners were encouraged to wear shoes with as much arch support and stability as possible to prevent injuries, but within the last five years, minimalist running has become the new craze. Many people choose to wear the barefoot-style shoes because they believe the footwear design strengthens their feet and allows them to run more naturally. However, the results of a recent study performed by Sarah Ridge, a professor of exercise science at Brigham Young University, show that minimalist running may lead to an entirely different set of injuries than runners might experience while wearing normal shoes.
Support for the minimalist running movement has grown, but there are still many people who believe that the negative effects of barefoot running on the body outweigh the benefits. One such skeptic is Dr. Douglas Brown, a radiologist in Orem, Utah, who started to question the movement when he began noticing an unusually high number of barefoot runners with foot and heel problems coming in for treatment. He believed there was a connection between the type of running they were doing and their sore feet, so he suggested that Sarah Ridge perform a study on the effects of barefoot running.
This study involved a group of 36 experienced male and female runners who were initially told to run between 15 and 30 miles a week wearing normal running shoes. Then, half of the group was told to continue running as they had been with normal shoes and the other half was given a pair of Vibram Five Finger running shoes and asked to integrate wearing them on their daily runs. After ten weeks, all the participants received an M.R.I. The results indicated that over half the runners who had worn minimalist shoes showed early signs of bone injuries in their feet. More specifically, most of them had developed edema, which is an accumulation of fluid in their foot bones; a few had even developed stress fractures.
Although the results of this study might make you want to avoid going barefoot ever again, they should be more of a warning to be cautious when transitioning from wearing traditional running shoes to wearing minimal or no footwear.
Written by Maya Gelbard.