Redistribution of Mechanical Work at the Knee and Ankle Joints During Fast Running in Minimalist Shoes

Joel T Fuller, Jonathan D Buckley, Margarita D Tsiros, Nicholas A T Brown, Dominic Thewlis
Journal of Athletic Training 2016, 51 (10): 806-812

CONTEXT: Minimalist shoes have been suggested as a way to alter running biomechanics to improve running performance and reduce injuries. However, to date, researchers have only considered the effect of minimalist shoes at slow running speeds.

OBJECTIVE: To determine if runners change foot-strike pattern and alter the distribution of mechanical work at the knee and ankle joints when running at a fast speed in minimalist shoes compared with conventional running shoes.

DESIGN: Crossover study.

SETTING: Research laboratory.

PATIENTS OR OTHER PARTICIPANTS: Twenty-six trained runners (age = 30.0 ± 7.9 years [age range, 18-40 years], height = 1.79 ± 0.06 m, mass = 75.3 ± 8.2 kg, weekly training distance = 27 ± 15 km) who ran with a habitual rearfoot foot-strike pattern and had no experience running in minimalist shoes.

INTERVENTION(S): Participants completed overground running trials at 18 km/h in minimalist and conventional shoes.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE(S): Sagittal-plane kinematics and joint work at the knee and ankle joints were computed using 3-dimensional kinematic and ground reaction force data. Foot-strike pattern was classified as rearfoot, midfoot, or forefoot strike based on strike index and ankle angle at initial contact.

RESULTS: We observed no difference in foot-strike classification between shoes (χ2 1 = 2.29, P = .13). Ankle angle at initial contact was less (2.46° versus 7.43°; t25 = 3.34, P = .003) and strike index was greater (35.97% versus 29.04%; t25 = 2.38, P = .03) when running in minimalist shoes compared with conventional shoes. We observed greater negative (52.87 J versus 42.46 J; t24 = 2.29, P = .03) and positive work (68.91 J versus 59.08 J; t24 = 2.65, P = .01) at the ankle but less negative (59.01 J versus 67.02 J; t24 = 2.25, P = .03) and positive work (40.37 J versus 47.09 J; t24 = 2.11, P = .046) at the knee with minimalist shoes compared with conventional shoes.

CONCLUSIONS: Running in minimalist shoes at a fast speed caused a redistribution of work from the knee to the ankle joint. This finding suggests that runners changing from conventional to minimalist shoes for short-distance races could be at an increased risk of ankle and calf injuries but a reduced risk of knee injuries.

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