When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

by Editor on June 15, 2011

Ignorance can be bliss, but in the case of the runner, I doubt it is.  This is a great image of what can go wrong when wearing a PECH shoe. A PECH shoe is a Pronation control, Elevated, Cushioned Heel shoe, or what most of us know as a traditional running shoe.

As runners, for years we’ve been led to believe that we need major amounts of cushioning and arch support in our shoes in order to run in them.  And every year new models have been getting thicker and heavier, with more and more “technology” in them. Unfortunately, that approach has not been effective for most of us.  We still suffer injuries that hold us back and prevent us from doing the activity that we love to do.

This image is a good representation of what is wrong with that approach. If you look closely, you’ll notice a serious gait flaw, which is all too common when wearing a shoe with lots of cushioning in the heel. The shoe almost forces the wearer to become a heel striker.

The human body evolved to run using the spring in our lower extremity muscles to reduce shock. With the locked knee, heel strike this runner exhibits, the amount of shock traveling up her leg is enormous, and can often be the cause of knee pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, or a host of other lower extremity problems that occur way too often with many runners with this type of gait, every year. Learning about natural running can help eliminate some of these issues.

I postulate that most of those problems can be attributed to the huge amount of shock going through her body when the heel strikes the ground – hundreds of times every mile!

What can be done for someone in this situation?

Fortunately there is a solution for the locked knee, heel strike seen above:

  1. Since it is nearly impossible to land efficiently with a traditional running shoe, pitch them. Only wear minimalist shoes that provide a bit of protection for the sole of the foot but little else. You will be able to feel the ground, which is the key. It will engage your innate sense of the appropriate way to run, by using the natural springs in your legs to reduce shock upon landing.
  2. Learn to run the way the human body evolved to run by having her take off her shoes and run naturally.  When barefoot, most people become very effective at reducing shock by tapping into the bodies built in biofeedback system, in which the nerve sensors in the heel will send a message to the brain – “Hey, dummy, that hurts…don’t hit me so hard on the ground.
  3. Strengthen the feet. Most people that are wearing traditional running shoes have been doing so for quite some time, usually many years. The muscles in their feet are not as strong as they should be. A regimen of foot exercises to get them back to where they should be will be a huge help. The best thing to do, starting out, is to walk around barefoot as much as possible, then progress to walking barefoot on hard surfaces, like concrete.  Don’t worry, the human foot is quite capable of functioning quite well on as hard a surface that you can throw at it. In fact, believe it or not, it needs this type of activity to be healthy and strong.

I tell my patients every day how freeing it is to take off their shoes and walk around as much as they can tolerate, completely barefoot. The feeling is exhilarating, and can be a start to a healthier lifestyle. One which includes walking barefoot, hopefully progressing to running a bit, completely barefoot, to continue to tap into the bodies on-board system to modulate impact. Soon running will once again become an activity that will put a smile on your face and provide the benefits that it was meant to provide.

Kyle Roberts is a certified pedorthist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He is also the owner of Revolution Natural Running & Walking Center, a minimalist and barefoot style running shoe store, where educating runners on pain free, efficient, natural movement is the main focus.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Hans Wegesser June 18, 2011 at 3:54 am

Nice job Kyle!
Reduce injuries, run more and have fun doing it. That’s what I got out of it. My “big,bulky shoes” have been in a bucket in the basement for over a year now.

blaise dubois June 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Good summarize Kyle,
100% agree! Coming from a pedorthist, I’m impress about your vision of injury prevention.
Nice job… next post on “how can I do a personal record on my marathon…”?

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