A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Get the most out of minimalist shoes

Feet in minimalist shoes running up stairs

Minimalist shoes are trendy, but they’re not the best option for everyone’s feet.

Minimalist shoes have become trendy for running and casual wear.

They offer flat soles and a flexible structure that allows more natural movement and improves running stride, according to barefoot running enthusiasts.

Although these claims sound great, some wearers have experienced foot and lower leg injuries from minimalist shoes.

“They can cause problems when the wrong people wear them or they’re overused,” said Dr. Kerry Dernbach, a Marshfield Clinic podiatrist. “You want to make sure you have the best shoe for your body and your activity.”

Minimalist shoes offer some benefits

“One benefit is you land on the front of your foot when you run,” Dernbach said. “The shoes decrease stress on the knees, which is good if you have knee pain.”

Minimalist shoes are lighter than traditional running shoes, and runners say they can feel the ground better. That means a better stride and faster pace for some athletes.

People who spend a lot of time barefoot may like minimalist shoes because they provide some protection without a thick, heavy sole.

But they’re not for everyone

Taking stress off the knee shifts it to the ankle and front of the foot. That can lead to injuries, including:

  • Stress fractures in the bones in the front of the foot and lower leg
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Hamstring injuries

Injuries are more common in people who don’t have strong leg muscles or are overweight.

People who are normal body weight and have strong upper and lower leg muscles and flexible Achilles tendons are less likely to get injured because their bodies are built to absorb the impact.

Dernbach doesn’t recommend minimalist shoes for older adults or people who are new to running because they’re at greater risk for running injuries.

Finally, adjusting to minimalist shoes may be difficult and more likely to result in injury for people who never walk around barefoot.

Don’t transition to minimalist shoes too quickly

Runners: Don’t ditch your cushioned or supportive running shoes the day you buy minimalist shoes.

“Minimalist shoes change the way your foot strikes the ground, which can be stressful to your bones,” Dernbach said. “It can take weeks up to a year for your body to adjust to your new stride. You’re likely to end up with injuries if you transition too quickly.”

Dernbach recommends adding the shoes to your workout routine slowly. Try wearing the shoes around the house before you wear them to run. Breaking in your shoes is a good idea even if you only plan to wear them casually.

If you’re interested in trying minimalist shoes, consider talking to a podiatrist or physical therapist about whether they’re a good option for you and how to work them into your fitness routine.

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