Minimalist Running Shoes May Increase the Efficiency of the Feet in Absorbing Impact

A wealth of data has made the convincing case that running in minimalist running shoes may reduce a multitude of impact forces by encouraging low-impact mechanics such as a forefoot strike, greater knee flexion and better toe splay. Now more research has found another way minimalist running shoes may reduce impact during running and that is by improving the natural abilities of the arch to act as a shock absorber via increased arch mobility and compression, which may also reduce costly mechanical work on the lower leg. 

A 2014 study in the Journal of Athletic Training found that increased arch mobility during running may help contribute to injury prevention because of its direct effect on minimizing impact and preventing forceful engagements of the lower leg, such as excessive tibia (shin) eversion (shin turns outward) and internal rotation excursion which are known musculoskeletal stressors linked to injuries such as shin splints and runner’s knee.

The study found that restricted arch mobility (which is usually the case in narrow, stiff running shoes) sharply limited arch compression which led to higher rates of impact which in turn kicked into high gear more vigorous compensatory mechanical work of the lower leg to help absorb the pronounced impact during running.

Why Stiff Running Shoes May Cause Injury
In stiff, narrow running shoes, arch mobility is more restrictive, therefore the arch can no longer contribute to impact absorption efficiently because it has disrupted spatial ability to compress, bend and extend. A key consequence of this scenario is that impact may build up while running of which the lower leg may bear the expense of this, and may quickly make you injury prone. This is one reason tying your feet up in stiff, narrow running shoes may be unhelpful for injury prevention as compared with minimalist running shoes.

Conversely, injury prevention efforts targeting improving the functional strength of the feet, achieving low-impact running and helping you build more stable mechanics should involve the use of wide, flexible minimalist running shoes. This is because the barefoot-configured design encourages physical and mechanical engagements that increase the efficiency of the feet in holding your stride mechanics more stable and preventing increases in impacts from spreading out onto the rest of the leg.

Are Minimalist Shoes Good For Your Feet?
Running in minimalist running shoes or sandals, as shown above, may decrease your chances of injury because you’re more likely to have better mechanical stability since there’s no mechanical interference at the foot. There may also be less mechanical impact and strain on the leg which is resulted directly from the increased arch mobility and compression which help prevent increases in impact from spread out up the leg.

The study also found that the runners with greater arch mobility had reduced components of the vertical ground reaction force and loading rates which in turn reduced the need for greater compliance at other lower extremity joints, such as the knee as compared with runners with greater arch rigidity (i.e less arch mobility). Again, this means that when the arches have better mobility during running, impact may be less pronounced which may reduce mechanical strain because there may be less vigorous impact attenuation response on multiple sites of the leg.

Lastly, another reason rigid arches may strain more muscles in the lower leg during running is that the researchers found that runners with rigid arches processed a more intense degree of torsion across the lower leg of which this form of stress is correlated with an increased risk for shin fracture.

These findings are an obvious proof of concept that running in minimalist running shoes may actually decrease injurious conditions in a way that sustains by encouraging mechanical outputs that are good for minimizing competing forces while having more influence on strengthening the feet as compared with most conventional running shoes.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, you’ll love my content over at my YouTube channel, here, where I go into more detail about the evidenced-based facts on the performance and injury preventative advantages of forefoot running vs heel strike running.


References:

Nachbauer, W; Nigg, BM: Effects of arch height of the foot on ground reaction forces in running. Med. Sci. Sports Exercise 24:1264–1269, 1992.

Lees at el. Shock absorption during forefoot running and its relationship to medial longitudinal arch height. Foot & Ankle Inter, 2005;26(12) 1080-1088.

Willams et al. Increased medial longitudinal arch mobility, lower extremity kinematics, and ground reaction forces in high-arched runners. J Athl Train, 2014; 49(3):290-296.

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

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.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!