Running Sandals Effect on Biomechanics

Curtis HallView post →

The human body is a complex system comprised of many integrated sub systems, that when working properly, flow together and facilitate one another precisely. How the body functions in relation to it’s movement or structure is called biomechanics.

Our body has developed over millennia to function most efficiently and resiliently under specific conditions--one of those key conditions is being barefoot. Narrow shoes with excessive cushion and raised heels are a recent input on the range of human development. Widespread adoption of over-engineered, restrictive footwear has occurred around the world in recent centuries, especially the last 40 years. However this type of shoe has hindered the function of our feet in much the same way the roots of a potted plant conform to its container. Our feet essentially adapt to their environment becoming the same shape as our shoes. This adaptation often causes long term biomechanical dysfunction leading to a reliance on our shoe-containers that ultimately causes imbalance and dis-ease.

feet conform to your shoes

Restricting the natural function of our feet compromises the first biomechanical link in a long chain of systems radiating up into the ankle, knees, hips and lower back. I am going to focus on how transitioning to minimalist running sandals can help the whole-body reclaim proper function, with an emphasis on the foot, ankle and lower leg.

There are 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles and a whole slew of tendons & ligaments in each foot and ankle--all that to say this is a very complex appendage and, for most, underdeveloped and out of whack. Wearing unnaturally constraining footwear with muted soles and raised heels allows the muscles in your feet to atrophy due to under-use and dysregulation. In turn, your tendons tighten to pick up the slack, pulling joints out of alignment, creating a very fragile and dysfunctional foot and ankle. Conditions like plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, and unstable ankles are common results.

Transitioning to flat soled, minimally cushioned running sandals along with stretching and other foot rehabilitation, will help rebuild muscles, loosen tendons and realign joints to create healthy resilient feet and by extension a healthy body.

Two specific ways running sandals improve the biomechanics of the foot and ankle:

  • Closed toed footwear with a narrow toe box crams all your forefoot bones together like a can of sardines, creating the running equivalent of trying to play the piano while wearing mittens. All of your forefoot and toe joints should be able to move independently, gripping, stabilizing and adapting to the earth, functioning much like your hands. Running sandals allow the forefoot to spread out to it’s naturally intended state, giving your toes room to breathe and articulate. This not only increases balance, grip and stability, it reduces the risk of foot cramps, plantar fasciitis and other foot injuries.
  • Minimal running sandals re-train the foot, ankle and lower leg to move properly, efficiently, and sustainably through increased proprioceptive feedback--from the ground. Most modern shoes, especially running shoes, are overdesigned to cradle your foot, stunting your natural biomechanics and keeping your feet from interacting with the terrain as they should. This encourages a longer less efficient stride and a joint battering heel strike. Minimal running sandals allow your foot to move naturally through a shorter more efficient stride, ending in a forefoot/midfoot strike that builds strong joint protecting, shock absorbing foot and lower leg muscles.running sandals vs shoes
    Given the complex integration of our body’s biomechanics--foot health and proper function will radiate up and improve the function of your whole body in these key ways:
  • Lower leg muscles are now absorbing the shock that once went to your knees, creating both short and long term benefits. Joint inflammation is reduced, increasing joint mobility and allowing your connective tissue to function well reducing patellar tendonitis and other overuse injuries. In the long term this will reduce your chances of arthritis and other degenerative conditions.
  • Zero drop soles help your hips to regain proper alignment. Because your heels are no longer artificially raised, your pelvis no longer has to compensate. The hips are the center of the body, and that when aligned create a healthy back and effective upper leg muscles.

    running sandals vs shoes

All this builds to make you more durable, more capable, more efficient, and beyond all else, more human!

 Author: Curtis Hall (@capt.curtis) is the Co-Founder and Head Creative at BAREfit Adventure Training, a fitness company based out of Louisville, Ky. BAREfit uses all upcycled and handmade equipment to train people to Make the World Their Playground.

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Plantar Fasciitis: How to Rehab

Dan ChabertView post →

Running is a seemingly straightforward movement – one foot in front of the other,  literally hundreds if not thousands of times, over and over and over – but for all its simplicity, it's also a somewhat complicated movement. There are many forces, actions, and reactions that take place every time we put our feet on the ground and propel ourselves forward. It's no wonder then, that many runners find themselves unfortunately beset with injuries year after year, and one of the more common running-related ailments is Plantar Fasciitis.

running biomechanics

If you've never heard of or experienced Plantar Fasciitis, consider yourself lucky. Here's a quick medical definition, courtesy of WebMD:

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. The plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes. It supports the arch of your foot. If you strain your plantar fascia, it gets weak, swollen, and irritated (inflamed). Then your heel or the bottom of your foot hurts when you stand or walk.”

In other words, Plantar fasciitis simply refers to inflammation of the fascia, the ligament on the bottom of your foot.

Plantar Fasciitis can be incredibly painful and very frustrating to deal with, especially since the pain is often at its worst first thing in the morning when you're getting out of bed. However, with some tools and patience you too can beat Plantar Fasciitis and get back to your running, walking, or hiking ways.

Plantar Fasciitis

Below, I'll outline some tried-and-true tips for rehabbing Plantar Fasciitis.

Step 1: Reduce inflammation. Arguably the best way to immediately treat Plantar Fasciitis is to get the inflammation down as fast as possible. The best way to do that is to stay off your feet – read: stop running, walking, and hiking immediately. Don't overburden your already-strained feet with excessive amounts of exercise or time on your feet. Some people also find that they can successfully reduce inflammation through natural therapies such as  soaking their feet in Epsom salt baths and by applying essential oils to their feet at night. As with any medical condition, you should definitely consider consulting a  professional such as a sports medicine physician or a physical therapist. They may recommend that you sleep wearing a Plantar Fasciitis boot if your case is especially egregious. Listen to a professional!

epson salt foot bath

Step 2: Rehab the fascia. Eventually, once you've decreased your foot's inflammation, you'll want to rehabilitate the fascia slowly but deliberately. It's important that you take things slowly here because you don't want to accidentally set your progress back by a few days or weeks because you became overzealous. Slowly begin to rehab your fascia by kneading the bottom of your foot and strengthening your foot muscles. An easy way to knead the bottom of your foot  (especially if you can't get someone to massage your feet for you!) is to roll it with a textured foot massage ball. In addition, a sports medicine physician or a PT can give you specific at-home exercises to strengthen your foot muscles. As you slowly resume strength and minimize your pain, consider  walking short distances barefoot on grass or other softer natural surface to massage the bottom of your feet and strengthen your foot muscles. During the rehab phase you can continue using Epsom salt baths for your feet and should consistently wear your Plantar Fasciitis boot (if prescribed) until you are no longer experiencing pain.

Step 3: Prevent Plantar Fasciitis by strengthening your feet. Hopefully, if you do end up having Plantar Fasciitis, it will be a one-time thing that won't rear its ugly head again in the future. One of the best ways to prevent Plantar Fasciitis resurfacing is to ensure that you do everything you can to strengthen all of the muscles in your feet. Many people swear by using minimalist-type shoes to aid with this as they help your foot  to more easily and naturally “feel” the earth beneath you. This allows your feet to articulate accordingly - something that can be hard to do if you're constantly wearing bulky, thick-soled shoes. As you become more accustomed to wearing minimalist footwear, you might want to consider wearing these types of shoes for most, if not all of your runs as well; you may find that constantly allowing your feet to articulate with the ground, especially when you're running, will help keep you in check – preventing you from running too fast all the time – while also diversifying the forces your feet experience every time they make contact with the ground.

minimalist shoes

Plantar fasciitis can be a real pain, but hopefully with the tips I've suggested above, you'll be back on the trail in no time – and with stronger feet to boot.

Writer’s Bio:
Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on and he has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.