Sports: January 2010 Archives


January 8, 2010

Jennifer Leigh sent me a pointer to this article suggesting that running shoes put more stress on your legs.
Sixty-eight healthy young adult runners (37 women), who run in typical, currently available running shoes, were selected from the general population. None had any history of musculoskeletal injury and each ran at least 15 miles per week. A running shoe, selected for its neutral classification and design characteristics typical of most running footwear, was provided to all runners. Using a treadmill and a motion analysis system, each subject was observed running barefoot and with shoes. Data were collected at each runner's comfortable running pace after a warm-up period.

The researchers observed increased joint torques at the hip, knee and ankle with running shoes compared with running barefoot. Disproportionately large increases were observed in the hip internal rotation torque and in the knee flexion and knee varus torques. An average 54% increase in the hip internal rotation torque, a 36% increase in knee flexion torque, and a 38% increase in knee varus torque were measured when running in running shoes compared with barefoot.

Seeing as hip, knee, and ankle are major running injury sites— in fact, practically every major running injury I've ever had has been either at the knee or the ankle—this seems like it's something to pay attention to. The authors recommend that "Reducing joint torques with footwear completely to that of barefoot running, while providing meaningful footwear functions, especially compliance, should be the goal of new footwear designs." I already wear a relatively compliant shoe, the Inov-8 295, and while I don't have any data, it seems to have had a positive impact on a persistent ankle injury that has plagued me for years. I'd be interested to see this study repeated with a shoe deliberately designed to be as barefoot-like as possible like the Inov-8.

I do have a pair of the Vibram FiveFingers shoes, and while the advertising literature clearly suggests that you can run in them, I haven't really been brave enough to try it. There seem to me to be two issues here: First, the soles provide some protection but they're pretty flexible; I'm not sure that if you stepped directly on a rock it wouldn't be unpleasant. So, it seems like you would have to be a bit careful on trails. By contrast, asphalt is so unforgiving you would really need to have ideal form in order to avoid having some pretty serious impact forces. I'm still planning to go for a short run on a trail at some point, but I figure on taking it slow.