In a cushioned running shoe, the feet receive less sensory stimulation as compared with a minimalist shoe. When plantar sensory processes are impaired, sensory motor performance becomes impaired too, which is a major problem for older runners because their risk of falling becomes greater.
A minimalist running shoe that feels barefoot will automatically strengthen the foot/ankle complex and fix biomechanical impairments, helping elderly runners stay injury-free.
Why Older Runners Need to Wear Minimalist Shoes
Proper running biomechanics hinges on foot health, which is strongly affected by footwear.
Cushioned running shoes contribute to running injuries because they inhibit the foot’s ability to adapt to mechanical stress, and foster biomechanical alterations as a runner ages.
Furthermore, an unusually fragile foot structure, caused by cushioned running shoes, coincides with the onset of age-related musculoskeletal degeneration, suggesting that habitually shod older runners have feet that are unable to sustain the use of running without injury. And, weak feet coincides with poor ankle and knee-joint mobility, making running a risky business for older runners.
- Fukuchi et al. found that habitually shod older runners had greater calf muscle weakness and reduced ankle plantar and dorsi- flexion range of motion compared to young shod runners.
- The major areas of weakness in older runners were distal aspects of the lower extremity such as the calves, ankles and feet.
The nature of the lower extremity weakness in the shod older runners is the hallmark of the use of stiff, heavily cushioned running shoes, which prevents the bony architecture of the foot from yielding normal loading (Robbins and Hanna). This is when running becomes a pain-related activity for the older runner.
Luckily, the foot is able to bounce back quickly, regardless of age. In fact, those who run wearing barefoot running shoes will make the most progress. Why?
A telling study by Robbins and Hanna discovered that the foot of a habitually shod older runner can be easily rehabilitated via barefoot or minimalist (barefoot like shoes) adaptations and can become strong to deflect loading and absorb impact without protective running shoes. Not to mention, barefoot conditions also encourages a forefoot strike landing during running, which induces resistance to lower extremity injury.
Basically, the feet need mechanical stress to grow strong; without mechanical stress, the feet as well as the body as a whole, would weaken — This is why habitually barefoot runners have physically stronger legs and feet and sharper biomechanics than the average shod-jogger.
- The novel difference is habitually shod runners injure frequently, especially older ones, because they wear cushioned running shoes to avoid mechanical stress!!
A runner with resilient feet, i.e. a barefoot or minimalist runner, is not a runner who avoids mechanical stress, but is a runner who learns and adopts the natural reflexes to tame it.
More From Run Forefoot:
Fukuchi, R.K., Duarte, M., 2008. Comparison of three-dimensional lower extremity running kinematics of young adult and elderly runners. J. Sports Sci. 26, 1447–1454.
Fukuchi et al. Flexibility, muscle strength and running biomechanical adaptations in older runners. Clin Biomech, 2014; 304-310.
McGibbon, C.A., 2003. Toward a better understanding of gait changes with age and disablement: neuromuscular adaptation. Exerc. Sport Sci. Rev. 31, 102–108.
Robbins SE and Hanna AM. Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptation. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1987; 19(2):148-156.
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.