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Original Research: Running Barefoot May Be Safer for Your Hip, Knee, and Ankle Joints

Posted Jan 10 2010 6:01pm
Barefoot or Shoes?

Barefoot or Shoes?

Running barefoot may seem odd and even dangerous, but a new study published in the prestigious Journal of American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that barefoot running puts less damaging torque on our hip, knee, and ankle joints than wearing supportive running shoes.

The study was written by D. Cassy Kerrigan, M.D. et al and titled: The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques.” The researchers compared barefoot to shoe running and found a remarkable 54% increase in the hip torque and 38% in knee varus torque in running shoes. The study used the most technologically advanced non-invasive techniques to asses the biomechanics of running.

For thousands of years Man ran without supportive footwear. It is only in the last few decades that some people, mostly shoe companies, told us our feet needed support, control, and stability. This research shows a huge reduction in joint torques on the main weight-bearing joints of our lower extremities. Could the barefoot runner have been on to something?

Interestingly, I have not found one published study showing any detrimental effects to running without shoes or in just minimalist footwear.

To be clear, Dr. Kerrigan’s study found that the effect of the typical modern-day running shoes is to increase joint torques at the hip, knee, and ankle. This doesn’t mean every running shoe will increase torque, but given the huge difference in torque between barefoot and shod, it is reasonable to expect that just about every shoe will have some increase in joint torque over going barefoot.

The good news is that Kerrigan’s study advocates that running shoes should encourage or mimic the foot’s natural function. Thankfully, she is in the shoe design business! This is what the shoe industry needs—someone who backs up their work with sound research. It is time runners demand clinical evidence a shoe works; not million-dollar ads!

I am sure the shoe, insole and arch support lovers (and business people), will find ways to discredit this research or try to simply dismiss it.

These studies are rarely perfect and ultimately, just because there is more torque, does that mean there will be more injury or damage to the joints? The answer is obvious–of course! But, this study hasn’t proven that. To show actual damage to a joint, a long-term study would need to be done with MRIs or CAT Scans or some such technology. Regardless, this study is a huge first step, and all the hole-poking in the world will not negate the magnitude of this study’s findings.

This study is but one. I hope that more scientists will begin to investigate the effects of running with shoes or barefoot. It is time for a rational discussion on the proven benefits and hazards of running in hundred and eighty dollar trainers or just your bare skin.

Is Running Barefoot the Answer to Runners’ Foot, Ankle and Knee Problems? , Dr. Oz Promotes Running Barefoot, But Not Everyone is Happy , Could Improperly Fitted Running Shoes be the Cause of Runners’ Foot, Ankle, and Knee Problems? Is Correct Shoe Fit EVEN Possible?
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