The best way to avoid a broken foot metatarsal when running is to make sure the force pressure (plantar pressure) in your feet are low. This can be accomplished by running barefoot or in flat, un-cushioned minimalist running shoes.
How to Avoid Broken Foot Metatarsal During Running
When I first began forefoot running, I suffered a stress fracture on my third metatarsal head. I figured it was due to foot weakness and that I needed more time to adapt. However, at the time, I wore traditional running shoes (i.e. running shoes with good cushioning) and I assumed they would reduce impact, helping me by-pass injury, but they didn’t because running shoes with good cushioning actually causes plantar pressure to be higher as compared with running barefoot or in barefoot style running shoes.
I discovered that running shoes with good cushioning increases plantar pressure by reducing sensory inputs at the feet, causing a runner to land more impulsively on the ground.
One of the most important contributors to running kinematics, kinetics, and mechanics involves incoming sensory information at the feet.
Sensory input from the plantar surface is part of a feedback loop in the brain which compares incoming sensory information with stored knowledge –this is how barefoot runners learn to run with comfort.
Chen et al. (1995) confirmed that changes in plantar pressure distribution was due to changes in sensory input. In subsequent work, plantar pressure played a crucial role in the comfort and stability of running and was strongly influenced by sensory input.
- Running shoes with good cushioning changes the proprioceptive landscape, making runners vulnerable to injury.
But only recently have studies on running-related injuries begun to explain how running shoes with good cushioning interferes with the brain’s feedback mechanisms and to suggest new ways of enhancing sensory input.
Less Cushioning = More Aware and Lower Peak Plantar Pressures
The feet are insensitive in running shoes with good cushioning because the feet receive significantly less stimuli as compared with being barefoot. Earlier studies showed that insensitive feet have abnormally high plantar pressures, especially in the midfoot. Likewise, high midfoot plantar pressure is a risk factor for medial tibial stress syndrome in habitual shod-long distance runners (Sharma et al. 2011; Pell et al. 2004).
Ultimately, shod runners get injured because shoe cushioning masks the feel of impact, leaving these runners incapable of truly feeling abnormal rises in plantar pressure.
- Shod runners might be exposed to more impact because shoe cushioning diminishes transmission of mechanical transients which are adequate stimuli to proprioceptors (Robbins et al. 1988).
Strikingly, a misconception about barefoot and pure minimalist shod running is that these conditions ‘feel’ too hard on the feet. However, Hennig et al. (1996) found that harder plantar surfaces resulted in less peak plantar pressures in the forefoot and heel compared with softer plantar surfaces. Such findings influence the thinking that barefoot and pure minimalist shod runners have advanced abilities in protective avoidance behaviors than habitual shod-runners.
The Take Home Message
Plantar pressure is a component of sensory input and is responsible for injury — if pressures are too high. Because of greater tactile sensibility and perception of force, barefoot and pure minimalist shod runners keep their plantar pressures in-check and avoid having the same injuries as habitual shod-runners.
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Chen et al. Influence of sensory input on plantar pressure distribution. Clin Biomech, 1995; 10(5):271-74.
Hennig EM., Valiant GA and Liu Q. Biomechanical variables and perception of cushioning for running in various types of footwear. J Appl Biomech, 1996; 12(2):143-150.
Pell RFt, Khanuja HS, Cooley GR. Leg pain in the running athlete. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2004;12:396-404.
Robbins et al. Sensory attenuation induced by modern athletic footwear. J of Test and Reg, July 1988.
Sharma J, Golby J, Greeves J, Spears IR. Biomechanical and lifestyle risk factors for medial tibia stress syndrome in army recruits: a prospective study. Gait Posture. 2011;33:361-365.
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.
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