Your runners = knee damage and bad back!

So it has been some time since I posted, many months in fact. I have been super busy opening a studio, which is a holistic fitness-health service provider. The studio is on the island of Phuket in Thailand and since opening we have created a lot of interest in what we do.

Anyone that has read this blog will know I am a passionate about how fitness relates to health and the numerous ways in which we can harmonise this relationship. I am very happy to be bringing this passion to a bricks and mortar location and all of you are welcome to come visit!

Today’s post is on the flip side of the fitness-health paradigm and how used the wrong way, some things in fitness can have a negative effect. In this case where the innocuous Nike or adidas running shoes are the “smoking gun” in numerous cases of injuries and remarkably, how they never get “fingered” for the crime!

What am I talking about? Quite simply mechanics.

So the graphic above illustrates the kinetic chain, which is the arrangement of muscles, bones, joints and connective tissues that combine to create the human body. On the left we have a neutral kinetic chain (a.k.a a neutral posture) and on the right we have one that is misaligned. And in the middle we have a running shoe and a foot in plantar flexion after the heel is raised by the shoe.

The misalignment (right) is created in this case by having feet in shoes that elevate the heels in plantar flexion (#1). We are told we need the back of the shoe raised and cushioned to protect the pounding down of the heel onto the concrete. Additionally we need a rubber sole to protect our forefoot and an arch support to stabilise the whole foot.

This is what we have been sold on by the likes of Nike the genesis of which was the waffle sole way back in the 70’s (anyone read Shoe Dog?).

Our postures wouldn’t be so collectively bad if we only wore the runners when we run. But we don’t because they have become a fashion item as well and a lot of people wear them all the time.

So what’s going on that is so bad? #2 in the graphic are the knees and due to the raised heel you can see that the knees go into flexion (moving them forward) and by doing so put an unnatural loading into this very important joint. In a neutral position where hips, knees and ankles are aligned loading into the knees is minimal but when wearing shoes with a high heel this forward loading is compromising knee integrity and over time can have serious repercussions. One major issue is displacement of the knee cap and why so many people have issues with this small bit of bone. Shin splints will also be a symptom of this forward loading. The potential also exists for the 4 major ligaments in the knee all having to adapt to an unnatural (forward) position and the integrity of all these also being compromised. There’s a myriad of problems in the knee based on using these type of shoes.

#3 are the hips and these will go into anterior tilt or mild flexion. This has an immediate effect on the lower back which will go into extension. Chronic lower back pain will result.

Human tissues are highly malleable and when subjected to load will adapt shape accordingly. If you have a kinetic chain highly compromised by an unfortunate choice of footwear and it has adopted a faulty structure then you will create long term, chronic problems that could present in a variety of symptoms.

From my experience in over 20 years in the fitness industry and working with many physiotherapists, physical therapists, trainers and a variety of specialists I am very concerned that these type of runners have created a significant problem. Compounding this issue is the number of commercial interests looking to make money in orthotics especially. This type of intervention stops the arch from performing its most basic function (just like arch supports do but it’s worse). Then there’s the rise of ridiculous concepts such as shoes classified as “rocker type” that has created a mainstream acceptance of them which even further remove the user from the biomechanics they’re supposed to be adopting in a running situation. The rocker type shoe manufacturers trot out research that tells users that their product simulates body biomechanics which is true but unfortunately the biomechanics are that of walking, not running.

This research is symptomatic of where science is finding itself, beholden to commercial interests as we see everything from washing powders and other cleaning agents to things like toothpaste all the way to pharmaceuticals being proven to work “based on the science”.

If we produced science showing the negative effects of these shoes and there is potentially a large body of it, people would never buy them but who would fund this research? No one because you can’t make any money from it and the big sportswear companies would hate you!

You can take action yourself and begin to rehabilitate your feet by reducing wear time of these type of shoes. Investing in flat soled shoes from Xero, New Balance, Innov-8 and others will also help!

The effect these type of minimalist shoes as they are known is very positive. There is no heel cushioning nor arch support so several things occur.

One is your arches start working like the spring they are supposed to be. When we walk we go heel to toe but when we run our natural foot action is to land on the forefoot, just watch children run barefoot, they will always land on their forefoot (plantar flexion) and as the foot strikes the heel drops towards the ground and the arch extends (so the arch loads as a spring does as you pull it apart) and before the heel hits the ground the spring reaches the end of it’s elasticity and recoils. Meanwhile the other foot is about to strike due to locomotion and gait and it then too goes through the same sequence – there is a great video here explaining proper foot biomechanics while running.

Bottom line for you all is please stop wearing traditional runners with cushioned heels. They don’t serve you as it relates to your running and most definitely do not help you if you’re wearing them casually – a much better solution for casual footwear are Converse or other flat soled sports shoes

Thanks for reading my latest post please check back in the history of my blog for many other thought provoking reading material!

I can be contacted –

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