I want to discuss a couple of interesting concepts that have been making their way through the shoe industry in the last year or so. These concepts though not new, are heavily advertised, thus encouraging people to give them a try. The first of these, is the minimalist concept of running with the very lightest shoe possible to the point of not wearing shoes. If you were running in 1980, you were running in a minimum shoe. The shoes of the 80’s, like the original Nike waffle or the Tiger Jayhawk were hard and you could feel every step. A good running shoe today helps you not only absorb and disperse shock, but also supports your foot through the entire gait cycle. When you are running with these minimum shoes, you tend to strike the ground in a more mid foot manner causing all of the impact, which can be 2 to 4 times your body weight, to be absorbed by the body. Most people who run in this country are doing so on hard roads or sidewalks. These surfaces are unforgiving in regard to helping your body absorb the shock. With no support from you footwear, your body will absorb most of the shock from running and over a long period of time this shock can cause injuries to feet, ankles, knees and back. There are quite a few people who were running in the 80’s who have quit because of injuries that were sustained from the shoes that were available at that time.
The other category I want to discuss is the toner or rocker shoes that are now available. One of the types of shoes that had been around a long time, which we discussed in Pedorthic school, was a rocker shoe. There is a term called “lock it and rock it” which is used to describe an orthopedic shoe that assists people who have trouble walking. These shoes have a rocker or a negative heel which means your heel is either flat on the shoe foot bead or that your heel is lower than the foot bead. The mid part of the shoe is firm and controls your ankle motion and the fore foot is also negative which causes you to rock forward. The toner shoe effect one feels is due to the fact that you have to balance yourself from pitching backwards or pitching forward. These types of shoes are relatively unstable and the toning effect is created by one stabilizing the body when wearing these shoes. I have seen no independent studies, nor even studies involving a large control group that confirm the toner shoes have any long term effect on your muscles.
These minimalist, rocker, and negative heel shoes, if used over an extended period of time, will cause the extension of the rear foot and calf muscles, which are accommodating the longer striking distance of the heel. If you are using a traditional running shoe, or a shoe with a built up heel, and are also wearing a rocker or minimalist shoe, you could subject yourself to possible injury of the Achilles tendon or the calf muscles. The critical thought revolves around what you are trying to accomplish with your footwear. The two shoe categories listed above tend to be in the fashion shoe area not in the performance area, but only time will tell. A good running shoe, properly fitted and matching your foot type, has proven itself to be very effective in absorbing and dispersing shock, in addition to reducing the chance of injuries. Advertising and the media always create interest but each of us must make the final decision on the credibility and use of the information we have been given.