A Closer Look At Minimalist Running Shoes

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Author(s): 
Paul Langer, DPM

What To Recommend To Runners Who Seek Minimalist Shoes

The questions that arise from our patients are ones that have been present for conventional running shoes all along. Which minimalist shoe is best for me? Will I get hurt trying minimalist shoes? Can I resolve a chronic and/or recurrent injury by switching to minimalist shoes?

   I always emphasize to my runners that minimalist shoes do not magically make the impact forces of running disappear or automatically eliminate the risk of injury. Minimalist running footwear can elicit gait changes that may be favorable to some runners but those same gait changes can increase the risk of new injuries for those who transition too quickly or lack the strength and flexibility to make the transition. The impact forces of running do not disappear. They are redistributed. While the loads on the knees and hips may be reduced, the eccentric load on the triceps surae and the bending forces on the metatarsals increase. If runners have not carefully transitioned or are otherwise not prepared for these altered stresses, they may be vulnerable to injury.

   It is my opinion that while some individuals may be able to use minimalist shoes exclusively, most people would be best served by using them as one of the tools in their footwear collection.

   The minimalist movement is showing legs beyond running as well. The shoe’s appeal has been spreading to water sports, fitness classes and casual use. Along with this broader appeal, the category is expected to continue to grow in the next few years so understanding the structural and movement pattern differences is imperative for anyone treating active patients.

   Dr. Langer is in private practice at Twin Cities Orthopedics in Minneapolis. He is an Adjunct Clinical Professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a board member of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine.

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