I’m constantly fighting the perception of most runners in that thick cushioned running shoes are safe. But in essence, these types of running shoes make learning forefoot running more difficult. For example, did you know that running in softly cushioned running shoes are responsible for more most minor ankle injuries.
Many forefoot running beginners complain of ankle pain or suffer an ankle injury. This may not be due errors in their technique, rather their running shoes in that the midsoles of their shoes may be too soft.
Ankle Injury When Forefoot Running
In forefoot running, the ankles have an important role because they control stability; whereas in heel strike running, the ankles contribute less to stability –This is why when many heel strike runners switch to forefoot running, they experience ankle pain, until they have adapted.
What if ankle pain persists? The basic answer is soft running shoes.
Earlier studies have found that soft soles increase ankle movements because of the compressible material being eccentrically loaded.
Taken together, rapid ankle movements suffice which in turn, produce confusing peripheral signals resulting in a poor sense of ankle position.
The central theme here is that soft running shoes impair plantar proprioception, thereby impairing ankle position sense. You need high levels of ankle position sense because it helps drives a stable equilibrium in human locomotion.
The Danger of Polymer Foam in Running Shoes
Robbins et al. suggested that expanded polymer foam causes sensory insulation which influences instability during locomotion.
- The researchers reported that a midsole made of polymer foam does not deform under high vertical and horizontal loads, therefore the plantar surface remains soft instead of hard –harder surfaces improve ankle stability.
The researchers also noted that sensory insulation causes a runner to develop poor judgment on plantar pressure distribution. How would this influence ankle pain when running? Because plantar skin sense is part of the basic equation of maintaining stable equilibrium in human locomotion.
This and other studies suggests that our ankles are sensitive to softer plantar surfaces and such surfaces should be avoided, especially when running. Thin, harder running shoes not only nudges us to be sturdier runners, they help us muster ankle strength necessary to avoid injury.
More From Run Forefoot:
What Makes Forefoot Running Efficient – Find out how the Achilles tendon allows forefoot running to be the most efficient style of running.
Leg Injury – Learn how heel strike running hurts the legs.
Avoid ‘Sate of the Art Shoes’ – Learn why these shoes actually cause runners to slam the pavement harder than running barefoot.
Achilles Tendon Injury – Discover the reasons heel strike runners have an added risk of getting an Achilles injury than forefoot runners.
Barefoot Running Shoes – Reviews on the forefoot running shoes that feel like you are barefoot.
McMahon TA, Valiant G, Frederick EC. Groucho running. J Appl Phys 1987; 62: 2326-7.
Robbins et al. Athletic footwear affects balance in men. Br J Sports Med, 1994; 28(2):117-122
Robbins SE, Gouw GJ, McClaran J. Stability in older men in relation to footwear midsole hardness and thickness. J Amer Geriatr Soc 1992; 40: 1089-94.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.