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Minimalist shoes haven’t declined in use. They changed the way we run, as well as the entire shoe industry.

A recent article in the Montreal Gazette titled “The rise and fall of the minimalist running shoe: After initially racing off the shelves, sales of the unusual design have hit the wall”  touts that minimalist shoes are on their way out.  This is not exactly true.  In fact, minimalist shoes have actually changed the way we are looking at foot injuries and running injuries.  It’s not about the shoe anymore.  We have now put more focus on running form and training patterns than ever, and the shoe companies have recognized this as demonstrated by the new lines of shoes offering less support and more flexibility and rearranged cushion placement.  To dispel a few of the myths of the article here are my responses.

In the U.S. of $400 million in 2012. A 30 per cent increase in the market from 2011 to 2012, dropped to a meagre three per cent by the end of 2012, followed by a 13 per cent decline in sales in the first quarter of 2013. That drop in popularity may be due to the inability of runners to get used to a cushionless shoe stripped of its technical features or it could be due to the growing amount of evidence suggesting that the benefits of barefoot running and minimalist shoes have been greatly overstated.

Or is it due to the fact that shoes no longer need to be changed every 300-500 miles because we put this myth to rest by getting runners off of their heels and learning to midfoot/forefoot strike.  Also, consider that you are comparing an entire new line of shoes to the rest of the shoe industry.  If the shoe companies stopped marketing and selling their traditional running shoes to only sale minimalist shoes, every single shoe company would collapse economically.  You don’t need a degree in economics to figure this out.

One of the latest studies to question the value of minimalist shoes was published in the August 2013 online version of PM&R (the scientific journal of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation). Designed to detect whether running mechanics change when wearing minimalist shoes, study subjects switched from their traditional running shoes to Vibram FiveFingers and participated in a twoweek training program (six 20-minute sessions), where their running style was continually monitored. Interestingly, the majority of the subjects exhibited no change in running style after two weeks of running in minimalist footwear. Their stride didn’t shorten, impact stress didn’t decrease and biomechanics changed very little, a finding that has been replicated in several scientific journals in the past 12 to 18 months.

Shoes will NOT change the way someone runs.  They can allow you to run differently, but they will not in themselves fix your running form.  Not to mention that this particular study only looked at 2 weeks of running.  If we could fix someones form in 2 weeks by telling them to wear a pair of shoes, Boston Marathon qualifying times would decrease by 30 minutes!!!

So far, there have been few data to prove or disprove the claims of this new hybrid shoe, be it an improvement in running mechanics, a change in foot strike or a reduced rate of injury.

While this statement could be perceived as true, consider that it’s only over 12-18 months worth of studies.  There is no evidence from the past 40 years that can demonstrate traditional supportive running shoes reduce injury or improve running.  I think that’s more of a shocking statement if you ask me!

Dr. Nick

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