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Barefoot runners strike toe first, generate smaller collision forces, possibly prevent injury

PainSci » bibliography » Lieberman et al 2010
Tags: treatment, devices, etiology, biology, running, biomechanics, barefoot, pro, exercise, self-treatment, foot, leg, limbs, pain problems

Five articles on PainSci cite Lieberman 2010: 1. The Complete Guide to IT Band Syndrome2. The Complete Guide to Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome3. Complete Guide to Plantar Fasciitis4. Shin Splints Treatment, The Complete Guide5. Does barefoot running prevent injuries?

PainSci commentary on Lieberman 2010: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

This paper shows that “habitually barefoot endurance runners often land on the fore-foot before bringing down the heel” and “generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers,” which “may protect the feet and lower limbs from some of the impact-related injuries now experienced by a high percentage of runners.”

Later work has challenged this conclusion; see Udofa et al.

Trying to infer injury prevention outcomes from these findings is pure guess work. It’s so, so, so easy to see the words “smaller collision forces” and assume that this is a good, injury-preventing thing, but that is really just not a safe assumption. For all we know, that smaller collision force (assuming it’s real) is coming at the expense of, say, much greater stresses on your calves and achilles to control the sproingier ankle action … which might protect against shin splints, but send achilles tendinitis rates through the roof. We don’t know that stuff, and we can’t know until thousands of runners have been carefully studied.

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

Humans have engaged in endurance running for millions of years, but the modern running shoe was not invented until the 1970s. For most of human evolutionary history, runners were either barefoot or wore minimal footwear such as sandals or moccasins with smaller heels and little cushioning relative to modern running shoes. We wondered how runners coped with the impact caused by the foot colliding with the ground before the invention of the modern shoe. Here we show that habitually barefoot endurance runners often land on the fore-foot (fore-foot strike) before bringing down the heel, but they sometimes land with a flat foot (mid-foot strike) or, less often, on the heel (rear-foot strike). In contrast, habitually shod runners mostly rear-foot strike, facilitated by the elevated and cushioned heel of the modern running shoe. Kinematic and kinetic analyses show that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who fore-foot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers. This difference results primarily from a more plantarflexed foot at landing and more ankle compliance during impact, decreasing the effective mass of the body that collides with the ground. Fore-foot- and mid-foot-strike gaits were probably more common when humans ran barefoot or in minimal shoes, and may protect the feet and lower limbs from some of the impact-related injuries now experienced by a high percentage of runners.

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