Running in minimalist footwear may increase injuries, study suggests

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine examined the effect of running with minimalist shoes on pain perception and injury incidence in recreational runnings. The study is titled Examining injury risk and pain perception in runners using minimalist footwear and is authored by Dr. Michael Ryan of Griffith University, Australia.

The study, published in December 2013, concluded: 

Running in minimalist footwear appears to increase the likelihood of experiencing an injury, with full minimalist designs specifically increasing pain at the shin and calf. Clinicians should exercise caution when recommending minimalist footwear to runners otherwise new to this footwear category who are preparing for a 10 km event.

What I find interesting is the following:

  1. The study included only 99 runners.
  2. Non of the runners had ever done any barefoot (or minimalist) running before.
  3. The training was only 12-weeks in preparation for a 10 km event.

The first point makes me think that’s not a significant number to be a good representative sample, but I honestly wouldn’t know. I’m not a scientist.

The second point wouldn’t be an issue, except for point three. I’d assume twelve weeks is too short a time and 10 kilometres is too long a distance to push runners that have been running with padded shoes their entire life. And if the “event” was a race, even worse. They were asked to train too much, too quickly, and too fast.

I’m surprised there weren’t even more injuries.

When I first started running barefoot I did a lot of research. I searched online and found the experts, read books, asked a few people that had been running barefoot for a while.

What everyone agreed on is that you must start slow and run short distances for a while… or you will get injured.

Your body is used to running one way and you suddenly ask it to run differently. It seems obvious that it’ll need to adapt. I started with very slow 2 kilometre runs completely barefoot. I did that for weeks. And I almost immediately felt better. After a few months I tried 5 kilometres. After about 6 months I bought my first minimalist shoes (New Balance Minimus) that I still use, and I tried 10 kilometres. Slow.

After that, I increased both speed and distance pretty quickly and have not had a single injury. I’ve ran 2 marathons in those shoes.

Granted, I’m a sample of one and clearly not representative of anything other than myself. But seriously, if you’re going to do a study and publish it in a respectable journal, you need to exercise common sense above all.

This study seems like it lacked common sense from the start. Was it sponsored by a shoe manufacturer?

A talk by Lee Saxby on barefoot running

This explanation of barefoot running by Lee Saxby from VIVOBAREFOOT is the most succinct and easiest to understand (for non-experts like me) that I’ve heard. He’s eloquent and gets to the point without meandering or trying to sound too academic. Definitely worth the 12 minutes time investment.


Barefoot Running, by Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman

Interesting video with Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman explaining the difference between heel strike and fore-foot strike. The former is associated with people running in traditional running shoes, whereas the latter is how barefoot runners usually run.

Professor Lieberman hypothesises that the impact of heel strike may cause repetitive stress injury, shin splints, and other injuries.

Healthy Feet e-booklet from NRC

NRC Healthy Feet Book Cover

The Natural Running Center has a free e-booklet on the topic of “Healthy Feet”. It’s 72 pages and full of content. From their own description:

The main attraction of the booklet is an extensive footwear study that appeared in a medical journal from 1905, and which arrived at the unvarnished conclusion that most “modern” shoes are harmful to the health and development of the human foot.

 It’s worth a read. You can download it from here.