According to a new study in the January 2019 edition of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, stability shoes may weaken runners’ feet, and walking around the house barefoot or in minimalist shoes can be as helpful in correcting the problem as doing exercises to strengthen their foot muscles.
The foot contains 26 bones and more than 20 muscles, and the way the bones and muscles interact allows us to use our feet to move us forward with stability, shock absorption, and the ability to adapt to uneven surfaces. But if the muscles of the arch, in particular, are weak, runners may become prone to overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis and stress fractures of the foot.
The study took 57 runners aged 18 to 34 and divided them randomly into three groups: one group continued their regular weekly running mileage while wearing minimalist shoes (provided by the study) around the house and increasing their walking steps each week; one group did prescribed foot-strengthening exercises; and the third group (the control group), simply ran their usual weekly mileage, without following any particular protocols when not running.
Foot muscle size and strength were measured before the start, after four weeks, and at the study’s conclusion (after eight weeks). Foot muscles were significantly larger and stronger in both the minimalist-shoes group and the exercises group, in some cases even after only four weeks. There was no change in muscle strength or size in the control group.
“Minimalist shoe walking may be effective because it may require more muscle activation to support the foot, due to the decreased cushion and support of minimalist shoes,” the researchers claim.
The study notes that minimalist shoes worn for running have been associated with stronger arch muscles, but also with an increase in stress fractures of the foot. The researchers conclude that, though more research is necessary to determine whether the practice of wearing minimalist footwear when not running would result in lower injury rates, for the purpose of prevention, it might result in better compliance than asking patients to perform daily exercises.
The authors reported no disclaimers or conflicts regarding funding of the study.