fitness runner stretching legs before run

My previous article‘s main focus was about preventing running injuries and clarifying common myths and misinterpretations  that many of us make. The feedback was great and pushed me to write this follow-up article, focusing solely on the best running shoe that one should opt for when running; the minimalist shoe. The latter is not a specific type of shoe or brand, but rather a concept, which will be described in detail in this article. Prior to diving into this  innovative,  yet evidence-based subject, let’s review some of the key points made in my previous article.

 

Myth:  Shoe cushioning prevents injury 

  • Our feet are important. They inform us about the surface, absorb our body weight and adapt to the unevenness of the ground. Shoes provide essential protection from the cold and dangerous surfaces, but unfortunately they can also “over-protect” our feet, sending our brains the wrong message throughout much of our daily activities.
  • Through the increased rigidity of the shoe, the runner’s foot has become lazier and less efficient at processing the essential information that the ground provides. In others words, the brains receives a message telling it that the ground has no unevenness or risk and that the foot doesn’t need to work as hard to protect itself.  As a result, the foot slowly loses its ability to adapt and to quickly react to change, such as to different surfaces.  This failure to adapt quickly results in injuries as small forces add up or when a larger change is not felt quickly enough i.e. stepping off a curb.
  • In terms of performance, the elevation of the slope of the shoe causes us to change how we run.  This angle means that the first contact is with the heel.  This design converts the runner into a heel-striker, as opposed to the preferred running style of mid or forefoot striking. Because the contact is much greater in running as opposed to walking, we want to be able to absorb the ground reaction force through our muscles rather than our joints. This is why it is best to avoid the direct heel to ground contact when running.  
  • Coming back to the excess cushioning and “comfort” make the body feel protected. In turn, this reduces the need to protect us from painful stimuli, such as the contact of the heel with the ground. Therefore when we land on our heels and let our joints absorb the high impact forces of the ground we substantially increase the risk of injury.

How to find the “perfect” running shoe

Ideally, you want a shoe with the least amount of interference with the natural movement of the foot. This minimalism means that the more information the foot gets from the ground,  the more  accurate the signals from the brain will be to ensure protection of the foot. Whether  you are a beginner or simply looking to transition from your current footwear, think about purchasing a minimalist shoe. It is structured to be highly flexible, have a minimal heel to toe drop, a low weight and stack height and no motion control or stability devices. As part of a study led by researchers from the University of Laval, 42 experts from 11 countries defined the minimalist shoe and build what is called the Minimalist Index  (MI) which is composed of the five criteria.

Criteria Definition High MI
Flexibility The shoe is tested its flexibility and malleability The more flexible the shoe, the higher the MI score.
Weight Simply weigh the shoe on a scale The lighter the shoe, the higher the MI score. 
Stack height Measures the thickness of the sole The thinner the sole, the higher the MI score. 
Stability and motion control Accounts all technologies that promote rigitidy or arch support The less devices added in the shoe (to stabilize the foot or prevent flat feet), the higher the MI score. 
Heel to toe drop The drop is the difference between the shoe thickness under the heel and where the toes start. The flatter the drop, the higher the MI score. 
  • An example of a shoe with a minimalist Index of 100% is the Five Finger .  In contrast, the Hoka model  will be considered as an ultra- Maximalists shoe with an MI of near 0 %.  The running clinic developed a website in which you are able to  search for the minimalist index of your shoe by simply typing its name. A picture and detailed description of your shoe as well as its best use will appear. http://therunningclinic.com/en/shoes

Preventing running injuries- Careful when changing shoes;

It is important to recognize that if you are switching from one footwear to another, the transition should be gradual. In this case, most injuries are caused when the transition happens too quickly. The rule of thumb is that on average, runners should aim for a one month period for every 10% change in the Minimalist Index score. For example, one should plan for a 3 months transition time when switching from a shoe rated 50% to one that’s rated 80%. Staying conservative is key, otherwise more damage than good will be done to the body. Too quick of a transition towards a more minimalist shoe (higher score on the Minimalist Index) will typically result in symptoms to the foot, Achilles tendon or calf muscle. On the other hand, too quick of a transition towards a more maximalist shoe (lower score on the Minimalist Index) will generally cause symptoms to the knee, hip or lower back. In the end, everything is a matter of adaptation and you should listen to your body and make the transition between shoes progressively.

If you are curious to find out whether you are a heel or forefoot striker; whether you’ve got the right shoe; or would like an evaluation of your running pattern and mechanics, come see Svetlana Marianer Registered Physiotherapist, at the Orthopedic Therapy Clinic.  Svetlana has completed several courses related to the prevention of running injuries, and as a dedicated runner, she has firsthand experience with the field. She will be able to help you select an appropriate shoe, develop a customized running program and prescribe tailored exercises to help you achieve your running goals.

Disclaimer – This information is not meant to replace medical/health advice. Contact your health professional to ensure the diagnosis and treatment options are appropriate for your condition.

References:   Esculier J-F., Dubois B.,Dionne C.E., Roy J-L and J-S. A consensus definition and rating scale for minimalist shoes. The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research; 2015. https://jfootankleres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13047-015-0094-5     http://therunningclinic.com/en/shoes/

This advice is not intended to replace the advice of your professional . Contact your professional if you are having pain or require further advice.