Studies consistently point to the importance of barefoot running on coordinating all the mechanics that prevents injury as compared with cushioned running shoes.
For instance, the foot has been consistently found to interact best with the ground in barefoot running whereas the feet are known to grapple too much, shifting away from neutral line in conventional running shoes.
The hips, for example, is one of the many areas of the body proven to be more protected from mechanical displacements and damaging impacts in barefoot running. A study in the journal, Biomechanics, found that loads on the hip were the lowest and foot strike intensity was the softest in barefoot runners as compared with regular running shoes, hiking boots and clogs.
The researchers found that all footwear increased impact forces, bending moments and torsional forces on the hip-joint, but it was footwear with hard, stiff midsoles that were the worst because they restricted the proper function of foot pronation, which is the natural movement of the foot for impact distribution upon landing:
- When the foot can’t pronate naturally during running because the shoe is too stiff and narrow, there becomes a battle between what your body wants to do vs what the shoe is making your body do. This results in conflicting internal and external rotation forces which increases biomechanical forces on the hips.
The study also discovered that footwear with thicker, softer soles offered little to no hip protection because it became difficult to achieve a stable foothold during running:
- the foot tries to ram through all the compressible underfoot-cushioning which creates a wobbly landing surface. These unsteady mechanical movements at the foot are transferred up the leg and into the hips.
Sadly, these are the common accompaniments of cushioned running shoes whereby similar studies have also shown that increases in mechanical strain are nearly universal in cushioned running shoes because they are unergonomic and block the natural sense of the ground.
Likewise, this research makes the case stronger that there’s too many negative aspects to conventional running shoes than positive, and that to date, no cushioned running shoe has led to any great breakthroughs in preventing injury.
Thankfully, the list of things that can go right with barefoot running outweighs to that of running in cushioned running shoes because when you run barefoot, the sensory stimuli is transformed into functional movements, allowing your foot mechanics to be used more functionally and safely, as well as your knee mechanics, too! In fact, the best way to get your knee mechanics to work most optimally is with barefoot running, here’s why!
Bergmann et al. Influence of shoes and heel strike on the loading of the hip-joint. J Biomech; 28(7):817–827.
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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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