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New Study: Barefoot Sneakers Causing Foot Bone Injuries

Mar 7, 2013

One of the latest exercise trends, barefoot running, may be causing serious bone injuries to runners who choose this new style of running shoe.

According to a The New York Times report, a new study has examined the impact of using so-called “minimalist” running shoes, and determined that the shoes may be responsible for an increased risk of bone damage in the foot. The injuries seen in barefoot running shoes are not often seen among people who wear traditional running shoes.

Barefoot runners believe that humans were designed, essentially, to move about barefoot and that, for centuries, people ambled without any form of footwear. A growing number of exercise enthusiasts have opted to shed their normal running shoes and have either begun running without shoes or have purchased “minimalist” running shoes that look like a mold of a foot with individual sleeves for each toe, The Times explains.

The study was requested by a Utah radiologist who had noticed a range of heel and foot injuries among people he treated who had recently begun using barefoot running shoes. The radiologist contacted researchers at Brigham Young University, The Times reports, who conducted a study on the impact of barefoot shoes and related injuries.

The study involved 36 experienced runners who ran 15-30 miles per week and included runners in both sexes, The Times explained. Each runner underwent MRI scans of their feet and lower legs to confirm they did not suffer from any pre-existing injuries. One-half of the group was randomly selected to use Vibram Five Fingers barefoot running shoes, following  instructions set forth on the Vibram web page at the time of the 2011 study, The Times said. Essentially, the barefoot running group was to increase their running time while wearing the barefoot shoes: One mile the first week; two miles, in the second week; and so on to week four, when they could run for as long and as often as they chose in the Vibram shoes. The test period was 10 weeks.

After 10 weeks, the participants underwent another MRI and most of those who wore the Vibram barefoot sneaker were diagnosed with increased bone marrow edema in their feet. Edema is caused by fluid build-up and is an early sign of bone injury. The condition was rated on severity by a number scale of 0-4. For people who wore traditional running shoes, the edema range was between 0 and 1, the least severe edema level and fully expected as a sign that the foot is being trained and successfully strengthening. People wearing Vibram “barefoot” shoes had higher edema levels from between 2 and 4 on the scale used, The Times writes.

The Times also notes that two barefoot running participants suffered bone fractures in their feet, one to the heel bone and another to a metatarsal bone. The study also noted that nearly all of the Vibram barefoot runners cut back on their normal running program, going fewer miles, overall, at the 10-week mark, likely “because their feet hurt,” the report suggested citing the BYU study.

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