Will Barefoot (Minimalist) Running Shoes Help With Runner's Knee?
Wherever you go, it's hard not to see those barefoot running shoes, even in discount stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx. From the Vibram line to the Nike Free line, and every brand in between, it seems like everyone has a model of barefoot running shoes on the market that they've been marketing extremely hard. And all of them seem to have the same marketing pitch, to the effect of "run like nature intended" or something like that. The basic pitch is that the less shoe there is to deal with, the closer you can get to barefoot running, which is supposedly the best thing for your feet, knees, and legs overall. But are they really good for you?
Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but from this Physical Therapist's point of view, as a medical professional, I never recommend minimalist running shoes to my Runner's Knee patients, or any of my running patients for that matter, and here's why.
Minimalist Shoes Provide No Support
The majority of knee and other running related pains start with a structural problem, usually an abnormal foot strike. Your first point of contact with the hard, unforgiving ground that you're running on is your foot. Everything starts out with your form, so if you're not hitting the ground correctly, it's going to have a domino effect through your feet and knees, hence Runner's Knee pain. Minimalist shoes do not give you the support necessary to help you correct this issue, nor do just orthotics alone.
The combination of orthotics PLUS a good, structured running shoe can help to correct any imbalances and help with Runner's Knee Pain.
All Research Points To Structured Running Shoes, Not Minimalist Shoes
"But there are so many stories out there from runners that swear by minimalist, barefoot running shoes". That may be true, but what you have to remember is that those are all testimonials from individuals, not peer-reviewed medical research studies. The fact is that, if you look them up, all the medical research out there on running points directly to structured running shoes in combination with orthotics as a solution to Runner's Knee pain. A running Physical Therapy specialist, such as myself, should easily be able to offer access to a range of medical grade otrhotics plus be able to recommend the best pair of running shoes for you.
In addition, when it comes to orthotics, try to stick to medical grade orthotics either sold by or recommended by a Physical Therapist. The popular, cheaper ones on Amazon and such might have thousands of reviews, but in my lengthy experience, those don't last nearly as long as the orthotics that myself and my fellow Physical Therapists recommend to our patients.
If you still continue to have Runner's Knee pain even after using a good pair of structured running shoes with orthotics, it's time to get in to your local Physical Therapist, as there is most likely a more serious, underlying issue that needs to be corrected with skilled medical care.
Dr. James Pumarada is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 18+ years of experience. He is a Sports Therapy Certified therapist, focusing on treating and training runners of all levels, and is a certified Vestibular therapist, specializing in the treatment of all dizziness, vertigo, and imbalance issues.