Running on long distances has become especially in the last few years one of the most popular sports worldwide. And probably the main reason for that is the current obsession with healthy lifestyle. Another motivation can be positive examples in form of famous people, who regularly run.
For some people is running a way to decrease their weight and regain back the lost condition, others have maybe only gotten pulled into the trend by others, due to one of many running competitions, as the number of these races rapidly increases each year. On the opposite side of the spectrum are “lone runners” who are fueled by the inner experience, and long distance running is a form of meditation for them (long distance running is sometimes compared to yoga).
Scientists often indicate the current running trend as an unconscious return to the roots of our naturalness. They are supporting that with one scientific theory, which says that the victory of Homo sapiens in the natural selection is thanks to our ability to run long distances.
We have several predetermining anatomical-biomechanical characters, such as:
- Strong Achilles tendon, which works as a spring.
- Short toes on the feet, high foot arch.
- Strong gluteal muscles, especially the gluteus maximus muscle, which is almost unnecessary during walking, but it is crucial for running.
Apart from many positives (condition, reduction, form of active relaxation), long distance running carries unfortunately also some negatives and health issues, usually the legs get injured as well as the axial skeleton. The fault can be in the wrong running technique, which we have lost during the tens of years (or we have never achieved it), apart from the aboriginal tribes who never stopped running.
Wit the arrival of the running phenomenon the number of injuries of the Achilles tendons, knees, spines or collapsed foot arches are increasing. Doctors even talk about epidemics of modern times in relation to running. Increasing number of Achilles tendon injuries (since the 70’s) are also supported by the results of one older Hawaiian study. According to this study, the running technique is not the only cause of growing number of injuries, but also for example insufficient stretching before and after running.
We prepared a set of exercise tutorials related to this topic:
- For active runners - before running
- For active running - after running
In relation to the growing popularity of running, with healthy lifestyle and tendency for simplifying things a minimalism, people discuss more and more the suitability and which type of the running shoe would be ideal for them.
With exaggeration we may divide the running footwear into three groups:
- Highly cushioned and impacts dampening shoes
- Minimalistic shoes or barefoot shoes - the difference between the two is in the height of the outsole. The outsole is by minimalistic shoe thick around 1 cm and some shoes may be slightly higher in the area of the heel (drop), barefoot shoe can be even thinner (1m,5 - 8 mm).
- Running barefoot.
Modern and „perfect” shoes with soft and cushioned heel often dampen the impacts too much, and the body is then in unnatural situation. All the communication between the legs and the surface of the ground is therefore disrupted, and the vibrations and impacts are absorbed by the by the soft cushioning of the shoe. The foot is therefore left to be passive. When we cover our foot arch with synthetic protection, it starts to degenerate, weaken and deform. It loses it natural function.
We also do not obtain the informations from receptors on the feet for for the control of our movement and communication and higher levels of the nervous system. It is similar to losing or lowering the function of one of our instincts (sight or hearing). Such „dampened” foot can be pale, cold on touch, too much or not enough sensitive and the skin on the foot is too soft, thin and not very resistant.
Current opinion about the negative impacts of too much cushioned shoe was already mentioned by a swiss study from 1991, which compared the frequency of injuries by people using expensive running shoes, which offer more cushioning and correction (pronation). It was proved that this group of people suffered from injuries much more often than runners wearing cheaper shoes.
Barefoot and bare feet
Producers of minimalist and barefoot shoes guarantee a protection of your feet with minimal affection of their natural function. The shoe should be made out of very light and permeable material. The shape of the shoe is copying the anatomy of the human foot, low and flexible outsole with minimal or no drop at all, will secure the natural position of the leg, correctly lifting up the foot from the ground and sensing the terrain it sufficiently enough.
Barefooted feet are during the running adjusting to the terrain, and at the same time your feet have to react to the impacts and deal with the burden. Thanks to that you can expect a certain advantage in strengthening the ligaments. Especially if you would grow up walking barefoot (as some aboriginal tribes still do), even the soft tissues on the feet would during the course of time adapt to these conditions. But for someone who spends most of his life walking in firm footwear can be running with bare feet (at least from the beginning) very uncomfortable or even painful, due to easier injuring of the soft surface of the soft tissues.
Generally it can be said that the positives flowing from running barefoot respond to those acquired during running in minimalist shoes. With the difference that in the second case we eliminate the injury or the surface tissues of the foot. Neither minimalist or barefoot running is for everyone, but everyone needs quality stereotype and a correct structural stability.
Every runner has a highly individual technique, and therefore you should consult it with a qualified specialist. According to the general recommendations we should stop using our shoes after 800 - 1600 km (ca. 500 - 1000 miles). in an ideal case we should switch more pairs of shoes between the trainings.
If you are preparing to leave your comfort zone and wear (or not wear at all) something more rough, then do so gradually, ideally by wearing quality shoes, (gradually lower the toe to heel drop, first walk then run…) and have more pairs (with gradual increasement of your running distance).
Author: FYZIOklinika physiotherapy Ltd., Prague, Czech Republic
Magazine Umění fyzioterapie
Magazine Respekt special issue 2016