Why Minimalist Running Shoes Are Perfect For Older Runners

Given the high injury rates, cushioned running shoes has offered nothing to help runners. Research has found that in addition to encouraging a forceful heel strike landing, thickly cushioned running shoes can disturb balance when running, making these shoes especially no good for older runners.

Minimalist running shoes are great for all runners of all ages, especially older runners in that the lack of compressible material in a minimalist shoe allows for a more stable landing, strengthens the feet and ankles and reduces the risk of falling.

Forefoot Running Shoes for Elderly Forefoot Runners
Forefoot running shoes such as the Vibram Five Fingers are safer for elderly runners because the flatness of the shoe enhances tactile cues for better support surface judgement.

Why Minimalist Running Shoes Are Perfect For Older Runners

Many decades of research have shown that running shoes with low heels and firm soles maximizes proprioceptive input which could help elderly forefoot runners detect changes in body positions during forefoot running.

  • Zero-drop firm soled minimalist running shoes promote compensatory behaviors to prevent falls and should be worn by elderly forefoot runners.

Foot Position Awareness Fades with Age, Cushioned Shoes Worsens the Problem

A study by McClaran et al. found that age influenced foot position awareness most when subjects were barefoot, but also when shod.

Research in recent years has suggested that sensory and motor performance as well as behavioural responses declines with age. This is concerning since falls in elderly are a result of destabilizing surfaces. In other words, in addition to age, foot-surfaces also influences foot position awareness.

More Cushioning, Higher Heels = More Falls for Elderly Forefoot Runners

Thick heeled running shoes are an unpleasant plantar surface for any runner, especially elderly runners because the elevated heel impairs landing judgment in response to surface irregularities. Moreover, extra shoe cushioning causes proprioceptive interference which impairs balance.

  • McClaran et al. also reported that falls in elderly individuals was due to ‘perceptual error’ in landing judgments, especially on uneven surfaces with cracks.
  • Big, clunky running shoes results in inadequate ‘toe-clearance’ which causes the shoe to catch obstacles.

Inadequate toe clearance paired with perceptual errors results in an underestimation of actual foot strike position. This is why an elderly forefoot runner should select a minimalist shoe that fits like a glove for the foot.

Importance of Plantar Tactile Sensibility for Stability

Because foot position awareness declines with age, elderly forefoot runners can’t afford to lose plantar tactile sensibility.

In the same study, cushioned running shoes diminished foot position awareness in elderly subjects compared to the barefoot condition. This is because plantar tactile sensibility was profoundly affected whereby cushioned running shoes impaired tactile cues needed for a more proficient landing.

Given that experts’ theories about the dangers of cushioned running shoes have now been validated repeatedly, elderly runners will hopefully move toward minimalism or even running barefoot to sharpen their support surface judgments for safer forefoot running.

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References:

McClaren J., Robbins SE and Waked, E. Proprioception and stability: foot position awareness as a function of age and footwear. Age and Aging, 1995; 24.1, p.67.

Overstall PW. Prevention of falls in the elderly. J Am Geriatr Soc, 1980;28:481-4.

Skinner HB, Barrack RL, Cook SD. Age-related decline in proprioception. Clin Orthop Rel Res 1984;184:208-11.

Whipple RH, Wolfson LI, Amerman PM. The relationship between knee and ankle weakness to falls in nursing home residents: an isokinetic study. J Am Geriatr Soc 1987;35:13-21.

Woollacott MH, Shumway-Cook A, Nashner LM. Postural reflexes and aging. In: Mortimer JA, Pirozzolo FJ, Maletta GJ, eds. The aging motor system. New York: Praeger, 1982;98-119.

Bretta Riches

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!

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