Ask the Expert—Dr. Izzy Lira
A: Minimalist shoes, such as Vibram FiveFingers, are very popular, but might not be right for everyone. Advocates believe running barefoot, or in shoes with minimal support, allows our feet to function the way they were naturally intended to. But this transition back to basics requires gradual adaptation. The American Council on Exercise recommends that runners who want to switch to barefoot or minimalist shoes begin with brisk walking. Once ready to pick up the pace, runners will need to shorten their stride and focus on landing on the forefoot as opposed to the heel. After taking the time to transition carefully, many runners love the minimal approach and the more relaxed form that follows. If you’re not a runner, you may find the new shoes add a new element to your strength training, as they allow the foot to have better contact with the ground, eventually improving balance. Just be careful not to drop any weights on your toes!
Without a doubt, the most common concern with barefoot or minimalist running is the increased potential for the following injuries: stress fractures, metatarsalgia, sesamoiditis, and plantar fasciitis. Stress fractures, however, usually occur as a result of a change in activity without gradual adaptation and are not directly related to the shoe, or lack thereof. To avoid injury, barefoot runners must avoid landing on the heel and, instead, land with a forefoot or midfoot strike.
If you choose to switch from a cushioned, structured shoe with a heel wedge immediately to the barefoot or minimalist shoes, you may also experience pain associated with biomechanical injuries already present. These injuries have likely been there for years, but have gone unnoticed because of the cushions and arch supports of your current shoes. While running or working out in minimalist shoes is great for some, it could be disastrous for others based on existing biomechanical issues or if a proper transition period is skipped. Be sure to make your switch gradually in order to remain free from injury. Most importantly, you should never run “through” pain with these shoes. Seek immediate care so that you avoid injury and long recovery times. And as always, see your chiropractor or doctor for more tips!
A Doctor of Chiropractic, Izzy Lira is also a strength and conditioning specialist.
Photo of minimalist shoes from Chico Mountain Sports Web site.