UVA Researchers Studying Effects of Minimalist Shoes - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

UVA Study Looks at How Muscles Change in Move to Minimalist Running

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Minimalist running shoes are at the center of a new, one-of-a-kind study at the University of Virginia.  Researchers in the UVA Biomedical Engineering Department are looking at how muscles change when adapting to the shoes.

The study uses MRI technology to look at how muscles change in volume and length when runners switch from traditional to more minimalist shoes.  Experts say they've been waiting for more longitudinal scientific research to help runners make safe decisions.  

"Minimalist running is a pretty exciting field for a lot of people. It's very popular, there have been books written about it," said Geoffrey Handsfield, a UVA PhD student who is leading the study.

In the midst of a minimalist running movement, Handsfield and his research team are interested in how muscles are affected.
"There are some scientific authors that have written about the kinematics, your running form when you change to a minimalist shoe," he said.  "There have been people that have looked at bones and joints, but there's not really anyone that's talking about muscle. So we thought it was important for people to know exactly, scientifically what's happening with their muscles when they use this different shoe." 

The researchers are analyzing static and dynamic MRI results to track how muscle tissue adapts when runners move to minimalist running shoes.  Their initial cohort consists of eight recreational runners. 

"By using MRI, we can look inside the body, look specifically at individual muscles and quantify what's changing with those individual muscles and so what's changing with that specific function that that muscle contributes," Handsfield said. "We can track whether that muscle has grown in 15 weeks of minimalist running - whether it's gotten smaller, whether it's gotten longer, whether it's gotten shorter."

Ragged Mountain Running Shop co-owner Mark Lorenzoni says it all comes down to what is best for your feet.
He said, "Personally I don't think there is such a thing as any shoe that's good for everybody. That's one of the biggest issues I've had with this movement - that there is a percentage of people pushing the movement that are saying it is for everybody."
Lorenzoni adds that it boils down to your body's mechanics.
"That's kind of I would say the sum of any discussion when you're talking about shoes. It isn't just personalized based on fit or look or weight or event comfort. Is it mechanically going to match up with your biomechanics?," said Lorenzoni.

But UVA researchers think they can take it a step further.

"A conservative mantra is 'everyone should try these shoes to see if they'd like them,' but I think we can do better than that. I think we can lend scientific data and say this is what the shoe can give you, this is what it can offer," said Handsfield.

The research is funded by a Double Hoo Research Grant - which pairs graduate and undergraduate students on research projects.  The team also received a gift from the Merrell Shoe Company.
The MRI technology has also been used to study muscles in children with cerebal palsy, adults with osteoarthritis, as well as college and elite athletes.
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