Research has shown that the use of barefoot running shoes can cause foot injuries including fractures. The shoes are meant to work like a glove protecting feet from glass and other road debris.
While many firms market products such as the Vibram Five – Fingers Barefoot style shoes for running claiming that running barefoot is closer to how our ancestors ran, the practice has long been suspected of causing heal and foot problems. Supporters of the product claim that the footwear creates less constriction and inhibition of natural movement and as a result reduces the risk of pain and posture issues.
The study, which was published in February in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise examined the risks and benefits of wearing minimalist barefoot shoes. According to the researchers barefoot shoes comprise more than 15% of the running shoes market. The studies’ authors recruited 36 experienced runners, male and female, who ran 15 – 30 miles weekly and who ran in traditional running shoes. The participants firstly underwent MRI scans of their feet and lower legs to check for injuries and other problems. The participants tested with normal feet and normal legs.
Half the group was randomly selected to run as usual maintaining the same mileage and using the same running shoes. The remaining half were given a pair of the Vibram Five – Fingers Barefoot style shoes and asked to begin gradually including these shoes in their runs. One mile in the first study week, two in the second, and so on until their fourth week, when they were free to use the Vibram shoes as often as they chose. The schedule mimics what the Vibram website recommended at the time of the study, in 2011.
Ten weeks later, the participants received a follow-up MRI, which revealed no evidence of injuries or changes in the runner’s lower legs. However, more than half of the minimalist shoe runners revealed early signs of foot bone injuries. Female runners were at greater risk than male runners. Testing revealed that most runners developed bone marrow edema in their foot bones. Edema, or fluid accumulation, is similar to what is seen in bruising and is rated on a scale of 0 – 4. 0 signified no edema, 1 signified slight bone damage caused by moving on and loading the foot occurred. Level 1, considered in the healthy range, means the bone is strengthening andresponding well to training. In the group, most runners had edema levels of 1 throughout their feet.
Speaking about the studies’ results Liam Moloney, Healthcare Solicitor said today “it is important that big companies that manufacture and sell these shoes warn consumers about the risk of injury when compared to conventional running shoes. Studies have shown that “heel to toe” runners who failed to change their running style when wearing these shoes had increased discomfort and risk of injury. Consumers need instructions about how to properly land on the ball of their feet without doing themselves harm and should carefully follow the manufacturers recommendations to gradually increase running speed when initially using these shoes”.