Barefoot running leads to injury "epidemic" - how to avoid it

Minimalist running shoes are a major trend, but experts are reporting a rise in barefoot running-related foot injuries. But don't blame the shoes, some say, blame your feet.

American podiatrists and running clinics are reporting a "stark" influx of hobbled runners thanks to the barefoot trend, cites Triathlon.competitor.com, which describes the rise in foot injuries as an "epidemic." But US-based fitness magazine Men's Health reports on June 21 that injured runners can thank their weak feet and poor form to being sidelined, not necessarily their slick new trainers.

Robert Gotlin, director of orthopedic and sports rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, said it's about biomechanics. When wearing shoes, the runner typically lands on the heel of the foot; barefoot runners land on the front of the foot. This "changes the impact of force on the foot and the lower extremities," he said in a news release last year. "As such, when you land on your forefoot, the force upon the body is reduced significantly."

So runners slipping on a pair of minimalist shoes need to modify their form. Continuing to strike the pavement heel first, now with less cushioning than standard running shoes, can result in injuries.

A study at Harvard videotaped runners on treadmills landing heel first and forefoot first, and measured the impact force of each foot strike. Landing heel first, as 75 percent of all runners do, generates up to three times the body's weight in impact, regardless of whether the runner was barefoot or wearing shoes.

Men's Health noted that researchers are conducting studies comparing injury rates between minimal and standard shoes, but "results may still be a couple years away."

So is barefoot running for you? Maybe. If you suffer from stress injuries, try switching your form to land on the forefoot, said Harvard professor Dr. Daniel Liberman in the article. And don't rush the transition from regular running shoes to minimalist styles.

Also skip the minimalist shoes if you're overweight or have any serious orthopedic ailments: opt for something more supportive instead. Triathlon.competitor.com adds that runners with "biomechanically disadvantaged feet" need the kind of footwear that can support those issues. That means if you have poor forefoot stability, overpronate, or supinate, you'll need proper footwear to set you straight. The best way to find out if you fall into this category is to visit a running clinic or stop by a specialty running store for an examination of your running style.

Also practice treading lightly, literally, by running on a treadmill and paying attention to the sound of your foot strike. "To run quietly, your body must fall into place - your stride will shorten, feet will move under your hips, posture will straighten up or move forward slightly and it will be easier to land midfoot," stated Men's Health.

In addition, focus on strengthening your feet before you hit the pavement. For example, try crunching a towel with your toes 10 times, then rest for 30 seconds. Try three sets. Or balance on one leg with the other leg bent for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat five times.

Access the article for more information and tips: http://blogs.menshealth.com/health-headlines/should-you-run-barefoot-2/2011/06/20?cm_mmc=DailyDoseNL-_-624246-_-06212011-_-body

To read more on the debate: http://running.competitor.com/2010/05/features/the-barefoot-running-injury-epidemic_10118

To watch a video on barefoot running: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jrnj-7YKZE

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