Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Barefoot-Style Running Has Caused Injuries, Too

According to a recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Barefoot Running Can Cause Injuries, Too.

When I first heard about barefoot running it seemed like a sensible approach to alleviating the knee pain I often felt after a few miles of running. While the knee pain was mild, I wanted to increase my running, so I was eager to find a way to do so without further damaging my knees.

The idea behind barefoot running is that people had to run without landing on their heels for thousands of generations, because they had no shoes to cushion the blow. Therefore they landed on the balls of their feet. This added the ankle as an additional, and primary, joint to absorbed the shock.

Note that this was before pavement and blacktop, so the shock of landing was considerably less. However, the same benefits can supposedly be achieved by landing on the balls of your feet while wearing sneakers, which is called forefoot running.

For some reason there seems to be this common belief that wearing sneakers that separate your toes simulates barefoot running, but that seems to be a fad based on some pseudoscience, as there's nothing natural about having fabric in between your toes.

Another thing to consider is that those people that ran barefoot for generations didn't start when they were well into adulthood. They ran barefoot their entire lives and their leg bones and muscles, particularly their ankles and calves were acclimated to absorbing the shock with their ankles.

Now when I started forefoot running I was almost 40, and I was never a particularly good runner to begin with, so I knew I had to take things slow and work myself up gradually. But I was training for a 3.5 mile corporate challenge, so I had a specific goal with a hard date.

I felt the difference right away. There was no more pain in my knees and my pace even got a little quicker. But eventually I started to develop a cramp in my right calf. I figured this was a sign I had to ease up on the forefoot running.

The cramp would go away for a while, but it kept coming back a little worse each time. I would try to run through it and stretch it thoroughly like I was always taught to do with a cramp.

After the race I took a break from running and my cramp went away. That was until a few weeks later when I was jumping rope. I had just started jumping and all of the sudden I went from feeling absolutely fine to having a sharp excruciating pain in my calf. That's when I knew something was seriously wrong.

Soon after the doctor scheduled me for an M.R.I., which revealed a deep muscle tear close to the bone. So all the running through it and stretching it out was really only making what I thought was a cramp only worse. There was little to do in terms of treatment beyond letting it heal for 6-8 weeks. These doctor's orders weren't difficult to accommodate, as I never really enjoyed running to begin with.

However, the injury still recurs every now and then.

So unfortunately the results of this study came out too late for me, even though they seem to focus on the increase in injuries that comes from running in minimalist shoes on hard surfaces more than barefoot-style running. Sometimes being first isn't so great.

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