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Running Shoes Are Worse Than High Heels

Running Is Not Bad For Your Knees, but Running Shoes Might Be

When it comes to running and your body, there's both good news and bad news. The good news is that running doesn't cause arthritis in the knees, and the bad news is your running shoes could be the source of many injuries. Let's begin on the brighter side.

Ongoing research, tracking runners and non-runners over a couple of decades, has found that runners do not suffer arthritis in their knees at a higher rate than their more sedentary counterparts. The even better news is that it looks like high-impact activities like running may actually help the cartilage remain healthy. Here's how researcher James Fries and Time explain the phenomenon:

Because cartilage — the soft connective tissue that surrounds the bones in joints — does not have arteries that deliver blood, it relies on the pumping action generated by movement to get its regular dose of oxygen and nutrients. "When you bear weight, [the joint] squishes out fluid, and when you release weight, it sucks in fluid," says Fries, explaining why a daily run or any other workout is useful for maintaining healthy cartilage.

I like the image of the cartilage lining my knees joints working like a sponge. On the heels of this good news comes the research about running shoes. Learn more when you continue reading.


Barefoot running is gaining momentum (pun intended) these days, and a study published in the journal Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation argues that running shoes cause, rather than prevent, a wide variety of injuries by increasing torque on hips and knees. Not only that, but "shod running," as the study somewhat anachronistically refers to running while wearing shoes, creates a reduction in propulsion — nothing any runner wants to hear about her sneakers. In the conclusion to the study the researchers wrote,

"Remarkably, the effect of running shoes on knee joint torques during running (36 percent to 38 percent increase) that the authors observed here is even greater than the effect that was reported earlier of high-heeled shoes during walking (20 percent to 26 percent increase)."

After reading the study, I am not about to go running in high heels, but I will certainly rethink the notion of a motion control sneaker. What about you? Are you ready to run barefoot?

If running is your game, I invite you to join and share in the RunningSugar community group.

Join The Conversation
Kimmers17 Kimmers17 7 years
I've also read Born to Run (devoured it in less than a day) and I'm starting to wonder if barefoot running is the thing for me. Haven't actually committed to running barefoot, but I've been trying to work on where my foot strikes upon landing. I guess the Taraumara (totally spelled wrong) strike on the balls of the feet rather than heel to toe. It's been interesting, and I find that my speed has picked up a bit.
Vsugar Vsugar 7 years
I LOVE LOVE LOVE my FiveFingers from Vibram. I will never wear "sneakers" again.
staple-salad staple-salad 7 years
I do everything barefoot. And I'd go barefoot more if it weren't so rainy here and more places let you in barefoot. It feels healthier. And I have a knee injury, and my shoes aren't doing it any good.
ojodeazul ojodeazul 7 years
I think my gym would have a heart attack if I got on the treadmill with no shoes..but it might be worth it to see the faces of the self-important trainers who walk around...
datura4 datura4 7 years
Haha... runningesq I had to laugh at your post. I too have drank of the barefoot running Kool-Aid but living in Baltimore City I would never run barefoot outside even in Vibrams. Seeing a hypodermic needle on the ground in my hood last week only confirmed my thinking on that. Right now I'm up to 5 miles a week barefoot on the treadmill. Once my ankles get strong enough I'll up the milage. I can't say I'm a full convert. I love my Brooks Defyances and custom orthotics. Without them I my knees would hate me. Thoughts on the study... Everyone has different running form issues that need to be addressed so you can't put every runner in a Brooks Adrenaline like they did in the study. If you overpronate a stability shoe just isn't gonna cut it for you. Runner's World has a nice discussion of the study: Long story short, if you can, give barefoot running a try. Only you can know if barefoot running works for you.
runningesq runningesq 7 years
After reading (okay, listening to the audio book of) Born to Run, I've started sipping the barefoot running kool aid. I have several runner friends who swear by the Vibrams and I'd like to start getting into 'barefoot' running (obv not running truly barefoot in Baltimore City!). If you read the book the author goes into detail about why barefoot running is better for you --- that the foot is self correcting but cannot read clues about poor form when its cushioned in a shoe. Anyhow, if I decide to do it, it will be a VERY gradual change.
Renees3 Renees3 7 years
I think it defintiely depends on the person. I have really weak ankles and it hurts to even WALK barefoot sometimes. And really running barefoot just isn't going to happen for me, I wouldn't walk around outside barefoot so why would I run out there?
chloe-bella chloe-bella 7 years
Yeah I'm confused - does the study necessarily say that motion control shoes are worse than neutral shoes? Or is it running shoes in general? I always run in motion control shoes due to my severe overpronation, but I've found that there's a lot of variance . . . Shoe stores always try to put me in the Brooks Ariel, but I owned a pair and they always aggravated old running injuries. Same thing with Asics. The only shoes I've found that really keep injries at bay for me are Nikes. I think you just have to find what's best for you.
ticamorena ticamorena 7 years
Man, this whole running vs your knees debate is draining; I recently had to stop my thrice a week 10K runs because my knees got so bad I couldn't bend them to use the loos. I second this study, because the times I've run barefoot (mostly in South Africa whilst on vacation; Durban at the beach and Ladybrand where the ground is firm but rather dusty) and I suffered no discomfort! Mind you, running on hard, dry land WRECKS the skin on your soles and I couldn't do trail runs, which I love
mondaymoos mondaymoos 7 years
This is a ridiculous study. Without my motion control shoes, I wouldn't be able to run at all. If you have perfect form and a body made/shaped for running, yeah, running barefoot may be great for you. Given that I'm incredibly knock-kneed/heavily pronate, running without motion control shoes would not only increase my likelihood for injury, but be painful in general.
ojodeazul ojodeazul 7 years
hmmm... That is why the Tarahumara are such good runners..
michlny michlny 7 years
So is a motion control sneaker worse the say - Nike Free?
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