Minimalist running shoes need caution

Many runners are switching to minimalist shoes that create the sensation of running barefoot. Changing from cushioned shoes to minimalist shoes is likely to change a person’s running style.

Running in a shoe with minimal cushioning will cause most runners to naturally reduce their stride length to avoid landing painfully on their uncushioned heel. This change in running form reduces initial joint impact and promotes a return to what some consider a more natural foot motion.

Those interested in making the switch from a traditional running shoe to a minimalist design should exercise caution in doing so. A sudden change in equipment or training can result in sore muscles and joints, blisters and even injuries, such as stress fractures.

The calf muscles will require the greatest adjustment, followed by the muscles of the foot and hamstrings. Running impact forces may also increase temporarily as a runner adapts to a shortened stride and forefoot strike.

The following are a few tips to make a smooth transition:      

• Runners should only perform 10 percent of their normal running distance and volume in minimalist running shoes for the first two to three weeks. For example, if a person runs 10 miles per week, only one mile per week should include the use of minimalist running shoes. Traditional running shoes can still be worn the rest of the time.

• No more than a 10 percent increase in distance per week is recommended for at least eight weeks after the initial transition phase. Some people may take up to six months to get used to running in minimalist shoes.

• Avoid running two days in a row in minimalist running shoes for the first four weeks.

• Run on different surfaces, such as grass, dirt and pavement, to get used to the feel of the shoes. Make sure the running surface is clear of debris and glass.

• Stretching will be very important during the first few weeks to alleviate soreness.

Focus on stretching the foot, calf and hamstring muscles.

As with any change in training, a planned transition phase is critical to limit the short-term soreness and potential complications from an overuse injury.

If problems develop from any change in training or equipment, runners should see their medical provider or physical therapist.