Wearing thick cushioned running shoes may have neuropathy implications, that is, wearing cushioned footwear may weaken the nerves in your foot in a way that affects how these nerves respond to mechanical and other forms of natural stimuli, a condition called sensory processing disorder.
How Cushioned Footwear Causes Foot Sensory Processing Disorder
Healthy running literally starts from the ground up: healthy nerves in the feet are those that receive adequate amounts of sensory and mechanical stimuli. Blocking these stimuli has an unkindly impact on foot health and function.
A study by Colak et al. found that habitual shod runners had significantly prolonged medial plantar distal latencies as well as significantly delayed sensory conduction velocity of the medial plantar nerve compared to the controls. This diminished activity, suggestive of muted sensory and mechanical stimuli, is trademark of the standard running shoe.
Put another way, running shoes soaks up sensory stimuli thereby reducing repetitive firing between nerve cells involved in stimulating intrinsic muscle tone.
- foot strength is facilitated by relative frequency of firing of plantar nerves which in turn is facilitated by sensory and mechanical stimuli.
Running shoes also interferes with firing frequency of a plantar receptor by absorbing mechanical stimuli. Certain plantar receptors rely on mechanical stimuli to activate appropriate reflexes and contractions of muscles and relaxation of others to minimize high stresses and strain during running.
To add to the problem, under-stimulated plantar nerves are at risk of neuropathy, resulting in numbness, weakness, and pain.
Reconnect Feet to Ground via Barefoot
Running shoes disconnects the plantar surface from the ground, impairing the integration of natural frequencies at the neural level. As a consequence, geometry of impulse conduction in nerve fibers are unfavorable. In contrast, earlier studies have assessed the considerable contributions made by barefoot activities on improved foot strength.
For instance, notable work by Dr. Steven Robbins eludes to the very mechanism that makes the feet more resilient: ditch your shoes and increase barefoot activity outdoors.
- because sensory nerves are more sensitive to changes, the most beneficial ingredient to restore fast, firing plantar nerves is by walking barefoot as much as possible, especially on uneven surfaces
Going barefoot exposes plantar nerves to multiple streams of sensory traffic, triggering rapid muscle twitching, toning and strengthening. This is why habitual barefoot runners have characteristically different feet that are more resistant to injury and nerve dysfunction.
More From Run Forefoot:
Colak et al. Comparison of nerve conduction velocities of lower extremities between runners and controls. J Sci Med Sport, 2005; 8(4):403-410.
Robbins, SE and Hanna, AM. Running related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations. Med Sci Sport Exerc, 1987; 19(2):148-56.
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.