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Transition to Barefoot/Minimalist May 9, 2011

Posted by The Barefoot MD in : Health, Running , 2comments

I’ve been a member of an online discussion group on google hosted by Barefoot Ted for the past several months.  There are many dedicated runners on that forum that have brought up a lot of good points.  Many have no formal degree related to healthcare, but nonetheless have done extensive research and have made themselves proficient, if not masters, in the field.  One of the topics that has caught my attention has been the discussion related to stress fractures of the metatarsal on transitioning to barefoot/minimalist running.  I reviewed bone physiology from my med school days and was reminded of the following:

When enough stress is applied to a bone to create microtrauma or microfractures, (such as what happens during the transition from shod to unshod) the cells around the microfracture die and send signals for the osteoclasts (the bone cleanup cells) to come in and essentially clean out that area.  This process takes about two weeks.  Then, more signals are sent for osteoblasts (the bone manufacturing cells) to come in and lay down a matrix of new bone.  This process takes approximately 3-4 months.  Over the next three years, the matrix that was laid down continues to become mineralized and increases in density and strength to that of the surrounding mature bone.  So, here’s another testament to why we should not make the transition to minimalist/barefoot running too quickly.

I don’t know how ethical a prospective study on people transitioning from heel striking to forefoot landing without proper instruction would be, but I’m sure there are enough people out there transitioning to a forefoot landing stride that didn’t listen to the signals their bodies were trying to send to see if this is something isolated to barefoot/minimalist runners or if it would hold true in “modern” running shoes using a forefoot landing.