SPORTS MEDICINE
February 9, 2010

Barefoot is Better

A new study has found that running barefoot puts less stress on your joints than does running in running shoes.

Despite their cost, today's running shoes are very poor at protecting joints from the stress of running. A recent study found that running in these shoes put more stress on the knee, hip and ankle than running barefoot does. The increased stress on the knee was about 50% greater than that caused by walking in high−heeled shoes.

Because the feet land with greater force while running than they do during walking, running places greater stress on many body parts. In this study, the researchers measured the torque or twisting force on the knee, hip and ankle.

The researchers note that this is more stress on the knee than what they had observed in earlier studies of walking in high heels, which increased knee torques by 20-26%.

The reason running shoes place added stress on the joints appears to be because they elevate the heel and the medial arch.

An increase of 54% in hip internal torque, 36% in knee flexion torque and 38% in knee varus torque were observed while running in running shoes. The researchers note that this is more stress on the knee than what they had observed in earlier studies of walking in high heels, which increased knee torque by 20−26%. This is no endorsement of walking in heels; it means that walking in heels all day places two−thirds the extra stress on the knee that running all day would.

The study was on sixty−eight healthy young adult runners who normally ran at least fifteen miles per week and had no history of muscular or skeletal injury. Thirty−seven were women. Running shoes selected as typical were provided to each runner. Using a treadmill containing a motion analysis system, measurements were taken of each runner running at their own comfortable pace, both barefoot and with shoes on.

Typical modern−day running shoes do provide good support and protection of the foot itself. This study shows that they have a long way to go when it comes to protecting the joints.

The results of the study were published in the December 2009 issue of the journal PM&R (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation).

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