Point-Counterpoint: Minimalist Running Shoes: A Significant Advance Or Injuries Waiting To Happen?

Start Page: 46
Nicholas A. Campitelli, DPM, FACFAS, and Kevin A. Kirby, DPM

1. Richards CE, Magin PJ, Callister R. Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence based? Br J Sports Med. 2009; 43(3):159-62.
2. Root ML, Weed JH, Sgarlato TE, et al. Axis of motion of the subtalar joint. JAPA. 1966; 56:149.
3. Kirby KA. Subtalar joint axis location and rotational equilibrium theory of foot function. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 2001; 91(1):465-87.
4. Cauthon DJ, Langer P, Coniglione TC. Minimalist shoe injuries: Three case reports. Foot (Edinb). 2013 May 10 (epub ahead of print) doi:pii: S0958-2592(13)00018-7. 10.1016/j.foot.2013.03.001.
5. Giuliani J, Masini B, Alitz C, Owens BD. Barefoot-simulating footwear associated with metatarsal stress injury in 2 runners. Orthopedics. 2011 7;34(7):e320-3.
6. Dreyer D. How to avoid injuries when transitioning to barefoot shoes or minimal running. Available at http://www.chirunning.com/blog/entry/how-to-avoid-injuries-when-transiti... . Published Nov. 23, 2011. Accessed July 30, 2013.

   For further reading, see “When Patients Ask About Barefoot Running And Minimalist Shoes” in the May 2013 issue of Podiatry Today.

Injuries waiting to happen.

This author notes that minimalist running shoes are not a new advance in shoe design and cites research that says these shoes may precipitate higher injury rates in runners.

By Kevin A. Kirby, DPM

The popularity of running has been gradually increasing ever since the early 1970s when the running boom began in America. Along with the rapid increase in running as a sport and fitness activity, the running shoe industry has also responded with a profusion of running shoe types and styles over the past four decades.

   One of the types of running shoes that has recently received considerable attention within the popular media is the minimalist running shoe. Minimalist running shoes are lighter in weight, have thinner soles, and have less difference in heel to forefoot shoe sole thickness (i.e. heel height differential) than do traditional running shoes.1

   The interest in minimalist running shoes was heightened with the publication of a 2009 book, Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall.2 In his book, McDougall claimed that thicker-soled running shoes with a large heel height differential are potentially harmful since they don’t allow runners to have a “natural” running form. McDougall claimed that running either barefoot or in thinner-soled minimalist running shoes would result in fewer injuries since our early ancestors ran barefoot.

   Many runners, caught up in their passionate desire to “run more naturally” after reading Born to Run, either began to run barefoot or run in a five-toed minimalist shoe, the FiveFingers™ shoe (Vibram), which was advertised to mimic barefoot running.2 Many of these runners, excited by the idea that it may be best or “more natural” to run barefoot or in minimalist shoes, even started to claim that the minimalist shoe was a new idea that would revolutionize the running shoe industry.

Why Minimalist Running Shoes Are Nothing New

However, contrary to the beliefs of many barefoot and minimalist running shoe advocates, the fact is that thin-soled, lightweight, low heel height differential running shoes are neither a new idea nor a new trend since these shoes have been continuously available in running shoe stores as racing flats ever since the 1970s. Runners routinely wore racing flats while racing or running speed workouts for years. I purchased my first pair of racing flats in 1972 while running as a sophomore for my high school cross-country team and I wore racing flats during my entire long-distance racing career for the next 20 years.

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