I Got Hurt. Was it the Shoes?

SO YOU’VE READ Born to Run, and you’re now sold on “minimalist” running. You rush out to replace your traditional, well-cushioned heel-mashers with sleek, low-drop lightweights. In your eagerness to give them a try, you head right out for a long run – and get hurt.

It must have been the shoes!

Throwback reference! Click here to see the classic commercial.
Throwback reference! Click here to see the classic commercial.

After all, you didn’t change anything else – not your form, your stride, or cadence. Why, you even listened to the same mix on your iPod. And therein the problem may reside. So before you call 1-800-SHYSTER (*), why not hear what the Running Fit panel had to say about how people can get hurt when switching running styles.

The panel from left to right: Parker, Jeff K., Kristen, Jef M., Trevor, Farra.
The panel from left to right: Parker, Jeff K., Kristen, Jef M., Trevor, Farra.

As I wrote in my previous post, the panelists had varied experiences when they took up minimalist running. Most were positive, like Jef, whose frequent injuries stopped when he switched shoes. But there are some caveats. Such as:

New shoes won’t fix bad form and posture

How did she know? (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)
How did she know?
(Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Trevor, the Running Fit business manager, once had nagging back pain that wouldn’t go away. Training and stretching didn’t help, nor did changing shoes. Then he got a new desk chair, and within a week his pain was gone. His problem had been caused not by running, but by sitting.

I may have had this problem too. During physical therapy at Probility for my shoulder, my therapist noticed was that some of my vertebrae were twisted. We traced the likely cause to the way I sat at my desk. She corrected my spine and I corrected my posture, and not only has my shoulder improved, a bit of lower back pain I had also disappeared.

And one gender in particular has an additional challenge.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
The appeal of these things will forever remain a mystery to me. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Panelist Farra Rust said that women often have calf issues due to wearing high heels, and they get more PF (plantar fasciitis). She also noted that the heel-to-toe drop in running shoes has quietly decreased from an average of 12mm a few years ago to about 8mm today.

But the way you run also matters.

Panelists Jeff Kong from Tri-Covery Massage and Fitness and Kristen at Michigan Rehabilitation Specialists see their share of runners with injuries, and they both said that bad form was a contributor. “Heavy heel striking or too slow a cadence are no good,” Kristen said, adding that pronating (excessive rotation of the feet) can hurt the knees and IT band.

Jeff encourages people to work on improving body mechanics. Tight hips or a tipped pelvis cause problems and over-compensation. “Run like a ninja,” he said, meaning to feel like you are skimming lightly over the ground.

One of the audience members said that he went from motion control shoes to minimalist. Then one day he put the motion control shoes back on, and noticed that he began to heel strike. Jeff Kong replied that, “shoes may not help with form, but the bad form is probably there without the shoes.”

And don’t overdo it, especially at first.

Farra, a “former minimalist runner” told a cautionary tale. “I ran a lot in minimal shoes and racing flats,” she said, including ultramarathons up to and including 100-milers. “But what I didn’t realize was that all that running was causing me to lose muscle mass and strength.” She stopped running ultras and took up CrossFit. “If we could get all runners to do more than just run,” she said, “there’d be a lot fewer injuries.”

Somehow this is supposed to help my running.
Somehow this is supposed to help my running.

“Run on a soft surface,” Jeff Kong said, “and go a little at a time.”

The Barefoot Runners Society audience member added that in his experience, overweight people often have better results than more fit people switching to barefoot running. The fit runners try to go too far, too soon, and can get hurt.

And then there’s . . .

“Ear buds,” Jef M. said. “Ear buds cause injuries.”

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“People put on the music and tune out. They lose touch with the world, and with their bodies.” By not being aware of how your body is feeling and what it’s doing, he pointed out, you can slip into bad form or not notice the beginning of an injury.

Not to mention, I might add, you might not notice the cyclist or vehicle you’re about to run into. And several joggers wearing headphones are killed each year jogging on railroad tracks, apparently unable to hear the train’s whistle over their music.

So there you have it. If you want to move to lighter weight shoes, go ahead. But be sure not to do too much too soon, work on improving your form, and listen to your body. That should take you a long way toward staying injury-free regardless of what you’re wearing on your feet.


(*) This number appears to be an RV center in Texas. So don’t call. Unless you’d like a nice Class A to recover in, I suppose.

4 thoughts on “I Got Hurt. Was it the Shoes?

  1. One of the hardest parts, I think, that happens when folks switch to minimalist shoes, is the need to cut back mileage and take it easy. It’s hard to cut miles for shoes when you’ve built a nice base. No one wants to lose fitness. Nice post.

    1. Thanks. I found it worked well to switch back and forth for a while. I also took a form improvement class, which revealed much to fix. And when I buy new shoes I get on the store’s treadmill and they videotape me running. Always something to improve!

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