'Barefoot' runners should think about their bones instead of performance

A study found that runners using minimalist shoes like Vibram FiveFingers experienced more bone bruising than runners in traditional shoes.

Switching from traditional running shoes to increasingly popular minimalist ones? You may want to take it slow and give your bones a rest.

Researchers studied minimalist running shoes and found they could add significant stress to the bones in runners' feet.

A study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise analyzed runners’ feet before and after a 10-week transition period from traditional to minimalist running shoes.

Minimalist shoes, such as Vibram FiveFingers, are becoming an increasingly popular choice for runners. Some believe the shoes can enhance running performance, while others claim they promote a more "natural" stride because they are not as padded as traditional running shoes.

Related: Double down: Should you run twice a day?

But the benefits may come with a cost.

The study looked at 36 experienced, recreational runners. The participants got an MRI at the start of the study. Then 17 continued running in traditional shoes, while 19 gradually transitioned to FiveFinger shoes. After 10 weeks, the runners got another MRI, and the researchers rated the severity of bone marrow edema, or bone bruising, in the participants' feet.

"The post-training MRI scores showed that more subjects in the Vibram group (10 of 19) showed increases in bone marrow edema in at least one bone after the 10 weeks of running than in the control group," the researchers said.

The study recommends that anyone determined to switch to minimalist shoes "transition very slowly and gradually in order to avoid potential stress injury in the foot."

Vibram says on its website that running in FiveFingers "can make us healthier, happier, and more connected to our bodies."

However, the company also cautions that switching to its minimalist shoes takes time and that users should "listen" to their feet during the process, stopping if they feel any pain. The company also offers guidance on the proper "technique" for running in barefoot shoes.

Video: 5 barefoot running tips


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