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April 11, 2012 / amberwoodterracechiro

Get Your Running Shoes Ready! Why Minimalist Shoes Make A Difference!

Considering all the footwear options, many patients get confused about which ones to purchase!  I have done a lot of research on the topic of minimalist running shoes, running barefoot, proper gait patterns, etc. and I have come to a conclusion that I stand fairly firm on.  I am NOT a fan of traditional running shoes with a cushioned heel because they promote a heel strike.  Let me repeat that….those shoes that you see in the store with the cushy heel?  They are ASKING you to land on your heel, which is a TERRIBLE idea!  So, if you are the fence about which shoes to buy this summer, I want you to read this post in its entirety, and consider jumping on the “minimalist footwear” bandwagon.  Thanks to multiple companies joining the supply, you don’t necessarily have to wear shoes that have individual toes (although  I definitely own a pair of Vibram FiveFingers!).

First let’s get rid of the elephant in the room.  Yes, I am a chiropractor.  Yes, Orthotics are something sold in my office.  Yes, I am aware that foot bio-mechanics contribute to spinal function. No, I don’t really want patients wearing orthotics. Whew.  Ok, let’s start with gait.  One thing I do when I assess a patient is look at their gait.  It is often an obvious red flag to their knee, hip, or pelvic pain.  Add repetitive impact to that, and the patterns get exaggerated and the symptoms of poor biomechanics are magnified.  Therefore, you bet I am looking at your feet if you have knee pain.  The very first thing I begin working with in a patient that has a heel strike, is breeding a forefoot strike.  In other words, I want the ball of your foot to hit the ground before your heel.  There are 2 major reasons for that:  1. When you strike with your heel first, you create an impact equal to 1 1/2 to 3 times your body weight! ( It is typical for someone to strike the ground 1000 times per mile!  …do the math!) 2. You do not utilize your arch with a heel strike; there is a reason that we have arches!

Seems easy enough, but how are you supposed to change the way you run when you have been heel striking your entire life!  That’s where minimalist shoes or barefoot running come into play.  I challenge every single one of you to go out onto the sidewalk and take a short jog BAREFOOT.  Your natural tendency is going to be to protect your heel!  No one in their right mind wants to whack their heel on the cement (or any surface) without some cushion there!  That’s normal, and so is the resulting change in gait. In order to avoid the heel strike, you will begin contacting the ground with the ball of your foot to reduce impact.  Voila!  Forefoot running.  When you contact the ground with the ball of your foot first, you allow virtually zero impact on your kinetic chain (knees, hips, low back) because  the force gets absorbed in the arch.  Runners with a forefoot strike measure impact levels more than 7 times less than heel strikers.  If you go back to the math on simply running a mile, you are talking tons of impact relieved from your knees and hips.  In addition, you create a spring loading effect on the calf.  When you strike your heel first, you already have your toes pointed up.  This means the calf is  already stretched at impact.  If you contact with the ball of your foot, your toes are pointed down, allowing impact to result in the Achilles tendon and the calf to stretch.  This causes a loading response in the muscle that gives you a spring into the next step.  This load is something trained extensively in plyometrics.  You WANT to use that stretch response so you do less work for the same result! For you Crossfitters that watched the video explaining tips for box jumps, it’s the same concept as resting on top of the box.  That way, you maximize the stretch created when you hit the ground, and it takes less work to get back up onto the box.

This is a very simplified explanation of why we should be choosing minimalist shoes, but I think it gets the point across. We have an arch that is intended to bear weight and absorb impact, so let’s use it.  We also have knees and hips that were NOT made to absorb all the impact, let’s give them a break!  If patients truly make an effort to correct this gait issue, I would say 85% of the time, their knee issues resolve and nothing else needs to be done.  There are always exceptions to the rule, but I encourage everyone to try this first.  Let me mention something….I was doing the endurance workout last night with my friend, Brett, and he mentioned that it was the most running he had done in his minimalist shoes.  I instantly had flashbacks to the 2 weeks following my first experience with minimalist shoes.  Your calves are not used to this kind of work, and if you don’t ease your way into them, you will pay dearly.  You won’t be able to walk normal, go up stairs, or have anyone approach your calf muscles!  Little by little will help avoid this crazy soreness!

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3 Comments

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