Preventing Running Injuries and Debunking Myths: Part One

Author: Joel Mason, PT, DPT, SCS, CSCS

Contributing Author: Sarah Schultz, MS, LAT

Conventional wisdom has traditionally been that the Wet Foot Test is an easy way to figure out your foot type. The idea is that you get your foot wet and step down on a paper towel or surface that you would allow you to see the outline of your foot. Feet can be normal, pronated (flat foot) or supinated (high arch).

Historically if you went to a specialty shoe store, the clerk would put you into the appropriate shoe based on his/her observation. A normal foot needs a stability shoe, a pronated foot needs a motion control shoe and a supinated foot needs a cushioned shoe. However, as more and more studies are done on this topic, it becomes clear that there isn’t any evidence to back this up. Multiple studies show runners getting injured at a higher rate in what is supposed to be the appropriate shoe. Does this mean that every runner should reassess their footwear and purchase new shoes? Not necessarily if you run on a regular basis and never get injured; definitely if you get injured a few times a year.

A newer topic that has gotten a lot more attention is barefoot running, whether completely barefoot or using minimalist shoes (which some consider running barefoot). There are a lot of good reasons for some to experiment with running barefoot or with minimalist shoes, however, be aware that you may develop some Achilles tendon issues. Eccentric calf strengthening can prevent this from becoming a concern, and it is an important addition to your training program if you choose to try barefoot running or minimalist shoes.

In addition, it is important make a few adjustments to your form. Probably the most important is to work on changing your foot strike.

You want to land on your toes or midfoot rather than your heel. To accomplish this, you want to focus on keeping your knees bent when you run. You also want to focus on running at a higher cadence. Cadence is how many strides or steps you take per minute. To calculate this, count how many times your right leg touches the ground in 30 seconds and multiply by four. A total of 180 steps per minute is usually the preferred goal but it is not a magic number for cadence.

It seems to be more common among elites, but evidence does not support it benefiting the general running population. If your current cadence is 160 steps per minute, shooting for 168 steps per minute would be appropriate. Increasing your cadence by eight to 10 steps per minute is a good starting point and it may not be necessary to increase further. It does not imply speeding up. Rather, it means shorter strides which initially will feel like more work especially when keeping your knees bent. If you are able to do this, it will actually decrease the workload on your muscles and the stress on your joints dramatically.

A study by Daniel Lieberman in the journal, Nature (Lieberman et al. 2010, looks at foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature 463: 531-535), as well as two other studies, found that if you put Vibram Five Fingers (ultra-minimalist shoes) on runners who heel strike, a good percentage will change the way their foot strikes the ground over time. In the Lieberman study, five of the 10 runners who were heel strikers became forefoot strikers within the six-week time frame of the test.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of barefoot running and what sparked the barefoot phenomenon, check out Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

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About Sarah Schultz

Sarah is a Licensed Athletic Trainer at Sports, Spine and Work Center. She provides Athletic Training services at Campbellsport High School and provides Industrial Services to the community through WorkSTEPS testing, the Work Hardening Program and doing ergonomic evaluations. She is an avid cyclist and barefoot runner. Sarah’s other interests include dynamic stretching, core strengthening, rehabilitation, muscle recovery techniques, and sports nutrition.

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