After Running in the Vibram Five Fingers, Cushioned Footwear Hurt My Feet

For the past year, I have been running in pure minimalist footwear, or barefoot-inspired footwear.


I gradually transitioned from running in the Puma H – Street, to the Puma Cat Drift 5, and now for the last few months, I have run in the Vibram Five Fingers, averaging 13-15 km a day without discomfort, or injury. Plus, I run on a concrete path bombarded with pot-holes.

running in the vibram five fingers
After a gradual transition from heel strike to forefoot strike running, and from shod to minimalist, I am pain-free.

It’s safe to say that my legs and feet are now stronger than ever then when I first transitioned from heel striking to forefoot striking.

A few weeks ago, I went for a long walk in my Nike Lunarlon running shoes for a change. I wore the Nike Lunarlon when I first transitioned to forefoot running. However, I discontinued running in them as they were too clunky for my liking.

nike lunarlon foot painThe Nike Lunarlons (right) are generously cushy and impressively light. But, due to the built up heel, I would not recommend the shoe for forefoot strikers.

After 10 minutes of wearing the Nike Lunarlon’s, my arches began to ache.

Theoretically, at least, my feet are considerably strong due to practically running barefoot. So, why were my arches screaming in pulsating pain while walking in a cushioned shoe?

It was as if my feet had an allergic reaction to the shoe. The more I walked, the more my feet ached.

Elevated Heeled Running Shoes Affect Balance Control and Pronator Moments

The heel elevation coupled with the cushioned material of the Nike Lunarlon was most likely the culprit for my arch pain. I spend my time either barefoot, or in minimalist footwear and walking in an unfamiliar shoe with control elements, caused chronic adaptations to occur in my feet which were exacerbated while walking.


Chien et al. reported that heeled footwear increases pronator moments and muscle activity in order to achieve dynamic balance control. An abrupt increase in muscle activity, especially during gait, leads to accelerated muscle fatigue and discomfort.

Nevertheless, the protective elements in the Lunarlons created a level of dormancy on my feet. How am I supposed to support my body while walking in a shoe that strips my feet of their natural function?

I am able to run comfortably and effortlessly on hard surfaces in the Vibram Five Fingers, but the immediate effects of the Nike Lunarlons was alarming. My experience with this shoe is well in-line with reports from many former shod-heel strikers who are now barefoot runners, in that shoes hurt the feet and less is more in terms of comfort and maintenance of strong feet.

If an experienced runner, like myself, chooses relief in the form of a barefoot-inspired shoe over the conventional running shoe, what does this imply?

The cushioned material in most athletic footwear may be invoking an inflammatory response during the initial stages of adaptation to an unnatural substrate. No wonder why I gave up on running in the Lunarlons.

More From Run Forefoot:

Chien et al. (2014). Effect of long term wearing of high-heeled shoes on the control of the body’s center of mass motion in relation to the center of pressure during walking. Gait and Posture 39, 1045-50.

Cronin et al. (2013). Long term use of high heeled shoes alters the neuromechanics of human walking. J Appl Physiol 112, 1054-8.

Gefen et al. (2002). Analysis for muscular fatigue and foot stability during high-heeled gait. Gait and Posture 15, 56-63.

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

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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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