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jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
what's better for your knees: stiff soles or, well, less stiff soles on 04/20/2013 15:53:24 MDT Print View

I've been using a new pair of boots with much less sole stiffnes. I like the boots but I've noticed my left knee has begun to ache a bit on downhills; never has before. There could be no correlation at all between this knee achiness and the new soles, but I don't know.

This is probably an impossible question to answer. Everybody's feet/knees are pretty particular in terms of how they respond to things.

Still, I thought that I'd ask.

The new boots are Vasque Breeze; I'm used to Asolos.

Daryl Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Re: what's better for your knees: stiff soles or, well, less stiff soles on 04/20/2013 16:04:57 MDT Print View

I don't have an answer but I have a clue.

I hurt my left knee a few years ago and noticed that it didn't hurt if I was walking down stairs or an incline and touching the ground with the ball of my foot first. My physical therapist said that made sense but I couldn't understand her explanation.

Sooooo, I could see how the stiffness of a sole could affect how your foot makes contact with the ground and how it moves after doing so.

I would try some other shoes for awhile, even if you can't figure out the biomechanics of the thing. Soreness or pain would be my compass and I would navigate away from it.

jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
"what's better for your knees: stiff soles or, well, less stiff soles on 04/20/2013 16:14:07 MDT Print View

Daryll: interesting, Ive noticed that about going down stairs as well.

The Vasque Breeze are the 'new boots' that I'm trying! I agree about navigating away from pain. Everything is a compromise; I like how the Breeze feel on my feet, except for the narrow toe box.

This could get expensive fast.

Edited by book on 04/20/2013 16:16:31 MDT.

spelt the enigmatic
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
less ime on 04/20/2013 17:08:04 MDT Print View

Going downhill doesn't hurt anymore since I switched to trail runners.

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
It could. on 04/20/2013 17:58:19 MDT Print View

Switching shoes is probably the best way to find "injuries" regardless of going from stiff to soft or vice versa. Your body adjusts biomechanics based on what it's used to. The feet have a lot of mobility naturally which ends up affecting all the joints above up the the back when they start acting different from before.

Since you (and Daryl) both feel going downstairs is more comfortable when using the ball of the feet first, that sounds like biomechanics. Basically with stiff shoes you often get a lot of heel cushion. So you "learn" to strike with your heel since the boot absorbs the impact. When you get rid of that cushion, now your heel takes more direct force and that translates into your knee bits smashing into each other harder than before. Over time this gets tender and can hurt a lot eventually.

If you use the ball of your foot first, then the entire structure of your foot acts as a spring/cushion to soften the impact on your heels. The foot/ankle/calf is REALLY good at doing this, but only if it's strong. Making it stronger is not a particularly fast process. Muscles are slow to develop but I suspect that most people have weak tendons and tendon takes FOREVER to grow stronger. It's akin to developing finger strength in climbers...years of climbing is the only thing that works.

You can't just swap out boots for trail runners and expect to get the same mileage out of them. With boots you have to "break them in" until they're comfortable. Well with progressively softer shoes you have to "break in" your FEET! Start with day hikes and slowly increase the miles so your feet and ankles can get used to having stabilize more often than before.

Trust me, been there done that and now have a chronic knee issue (but will also never go back to overbuilt shoes).

In the meantime stretching helps a little. But surprisingly the most effective treatment I've found for knees has been exercise. Specifically a range of different two-legged squats and lunges in all directions coupled with single leg body-weight exercises and plyometrics. Think cross-fit type stuff but doesn't have to be as intense. It makes my knees feel stronger and more stable which over the long miles allows my knees to resist all the impact better.


PS: Trekking Poles also alleviate a lot of the downhill force and keep my knees to a dull ache instead of throbbing burn when I'm lax on my non-hiking leg exercise.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: It could. on 04/20/2013 18:15:24 MDT Print View

I wear very thin and flexible shoes. When I walk downhill I naturally step on the ball of my feet.

peter vacco
(fluff@inreach.com) - M

Locale: no. california
Re: what's better for your knees: stiff soles or, well, less stiff soles on 04/20/2013 19:54:53 MDT Print View

if the pain is in the rear of the knee it could well be bursitis.
downhills are fun to blast, but are really a fine place to go more calmly and rest. then the pain might go away.

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
Minimal on 04/20/2013 20:30:46 MDT Print View

Be careful, stiff shoes don't allow your feet and ankles to extend and become a part of each stride. Instead your knees will take all the impact.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: what's better for your knees: stiff soles or, well, less stiff soles on 04/20/2013 22:43:28 MDT Print View

Jeff as you mentioned there is no answer that works for everyone. And as a previous poster mentioned sometimes just switching things up can bring out a biomechanical fault you didn't really know you had.

Depending on your foot type, your previous shoe may have been blocking a bit of pronation (which you want, by the way...) and protected your knee; now that you have a softer shoe your foot may be going through its whole range of motion but taking the knee with it. Since you say most of your pain is going downhill, that means that you lack enough muscle control through your whole leg - from the hip on down - to keep your knee aligned when you step down. Try doing a single leg squat in front of the mirror and see what your knee and ankle do: does it fall in towards your other knee? Can you keep it perfectly straight?

I posted some hip exercises on my crappy blog backpackerPT.com that address this issue exactly...so go that route first, or just get some shoes with more pronation control.

Rusty Beaver
(rustyb) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: what's better for your knees: stiff soles or, well, less stiff soles on 04/21/2013 09:22:09 MDT Print View

My knee pain was cut by 80-90% when I started backpacking in "barefoot" shoes. And, after a decade of not being able to jog across a cross walk in "runners" without pissing it off for days, I discovered I can literally run again in these shoes, or barefoot, with no problems. (I seldom run anymore but it's nice to know I can when I want)

So, I got rid of all my day to day shoes that were cushioned in the heal, were snug fitting, had arch support, and all the other stuff we've been told for yrs we "need" to take care of our feet. I have since tried on conventional "running shoes" to see what they felt like and I feel severely handicapped.

I'm no PT or podiatrist...and I'm even further from being trendy, but I think there is a lot to be said for wearing a shoe that allows everything to work naturally...at least for some people (maybe most, I don't know).

Don't know if it applies to the OP but this is my experience and observations. I should also note that my total backpack weight is between 7.25 and 10 lbs which I'm sure helps too.

Best of luck to the OP!

Edited by rustyb on 04/21/2013 09:23:32 MDT.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Locale: MaxTheCyclist.com
Backseat Expert here! on 04/21/2013 13:23:05 MDT Print View

I wrote several articles on this exact topic for eHow and Arizona's new health initiative. The muscles in your feet are evolutionarily designed to absorb impact. With each step, the ball and heel of your foot should simultaneously contact the ground, and as the arch collapses to flatten against the ground, the impact is redistributed along the muscles of the foot instead of the shin and knee.

So, the correct answer is that flexible soles will be better for your knee, BUT, you will need to strengthen your feet first using minimalist shoes or barefoot time to really absorb the shock.

Best of luck!

-Max

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Backseat Expert here! on 04/21/2013 13:32:38 MDT Print View

"So, the correct answer is that flexible soles will be better for your knee, BUT, you will need to strengthen your feet first using minimalist shoes or barefoot time to really absorb the shock."

That's it. Need to walk or hike daily. Build up your lower joints and associated parts. Natural walking is best, which means barefoot or minimalist. If you are over weight or an occasional hiker you already have two strikes against you. If you have already suffered serious injury, that is another matter.

Kelly G
(KellyDT) - F
Stiff soles on 04/21/2013 16:14:55 MDT Print View

About a year ago I switched to stiffer-soled boots, and did notice strain on my knees. But, the relief to my feet, which was my goal, was so positive that I decided to "watch" the knee-feel for a while. I no longer have any problem with the knees, so I suppose that I adjusted to it well.
Kelly

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Stiff soles on 04/21/2013 16:53:17 MDT Print View

Kelly brings up an interesting point that I've looked into.

I'm a firm believer in barefoot/minimalist shoes for improving over all foot/leg/back health. I like letting my body function as naturally as possible. That said I also believe that there are potential benefits to stiffer or more supportive shoes, in the short term. The concept behind padded running shoes still sounds logical, when trying to max out performance. I have near zero drop shoes (still working up the muscles) for my day to day walking and occasional jogging. However when I go backpacking I take more padded shoes with a rock plate and a bit more heel drop because it cushions my feet better. I do this because i don't get to hike/walk as much as I want or need on rocky terrain to build up my foot toughness. Thus I use the technology of shoes to compensate. But again this is only temporary measures. If I were to do a 1000+ mile thru hike I would just deal with the initial pain the first week then move on from their.

Shoes should be viewed as tools and not as clothing so much. Like all tools they make life easier, but so easy that you lose the muscles necessary to do the job if you didn't have the tool. Forklifts are great for heavy loads but not really necessary for a single 50lb bag. If we use the forklift for every lifting job (no matter how easy) then we lose the muscle to lift a simple heavy but not ridiculous bag. Shoes are used everyday for everything, so make sure your feet are still getting the proper workout they need on at least easy terrain of civilized life.

Samuel C. Farrington
(scfhome) - M

Locale: Chocorua NH, USA
knee pain after change of footwear on 04/21/2013 21:51:56 MDT Print View

"Be careful, stiff shoes don't allow your feet and ankles to extend and become a part of each stride. Instead your knees will take all the impact."

That's been my experience also, as my knee joints get older and less functional.
More flexible soles (lengthwise, not tortionally) greatly reduced the problem.
Found that shoes with stiff soles had an almost immediate impact on the knees when they got off the roads and onto the trail. It took a while to see the correlation.

Decided this year to focus on footwear. You are right Jeff, it does get expensive.
Tried to use sites that pay both delivery and return shippping, to keep the cost down. Still not sure if it was worth it.

Barry P
(BarryP) - F

Locale: Eastern Idaho (moved from Midwest)
Re: what's better for your knees: stiff soles or, well, less stiff soles on 04/22/2013 10:38:40 MDT Print View

“…my left knee has begun to ache a bit on downhills; never has before..”

+1 on the trekking poles. Those really help the knees.

Stiff soles or flexible soles? I don’t know. I've had good success with both. My first sets of sandals were very flexible and it felt very nice being able to feel the earth and all its bends. And I could go far. But I avoided scree as much as possible--- because it did tire out my feet. Now I use the stiffer sole and I can walk on scree all day; it feels good. And I play sports better with my stiffer sole (basketball, tennis, & racquetball). And then when I’m walking around town, I’ll slip on a very flexible Nike sandal--- and that feels good too/again. Right now, for backpacking, I’m staying with the stiff sole.

Good luck in the footwear choice,
-Barry
-The mountains were made for Tevas

spelt the enigmatic
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: Re: what's better for your knees: stiff soles or, well, less stiff soles on 04/22/2013 11:09:25 MDT Print View

>>Be careful, stiff shoes don't allow your feet and ankles to extend and become a part of each stride. Instead your knees will take all the impact.

This is exactly what happened to me. Coming downhill I was striking with my heel first and it aggravated my knees badly.

>>My first sets of sandals were very flexible and it felt very nice being able to feel the earth and all its bends. And I could go far. But I avoided scree as much as possible--- because it did tire out my feet. Now I use the stiffer sole and I can walk on scree all day; it feels good.

FWIW, my experience was that flexible soles combined with a cushy insole (Inov8 XTalon 240s and Wolverine Durashocks, specifically) gave enough protection on rough ground without sacrificing the benefits of flexible soles. I haven't had problems with aching feet. Plus my balance is much improved when my foot/shoe is able to conform to the shape of the rock and maintain contact over a larger surface area.

Again, just my experience and YMMV!

jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
what's better for your knees: stiff soles or, well, less stiff soles on 04/22/2013 19:15:59 MDT Print View

edit

Tyler Miller
(FightingTheTide) - F - M

Locale: Southeast
Foot strike while hiking on 04/22/2013 19:52:14 MDT Print View

I did a quick browse through this thread after someone referenced it on a thread I started this morning. I was sharing my experience with a forefoot strike in running, and also reviewing Merrell's Trail Glove 2's. A lot of what I'm getting at is being expressed on here in terms of biomechanics and joint pain/injury.

Those of you who wear minimalist shoes while hiking (zero drop w/ cushion, VFF's, Trail Glove types, etc.), how do you strike the ground on flat trails? With your heel, midfoot, or forefoot? Uphill and downhill are probably with your forefoot (unless you like climbing up using your heels and/or jumping down onto your heels).

Also, watch this video if you have not. It covers a lot of helpful tips for running that I think carry over into this conversation.

Michael Gillenwater
(mwgillenwater) - M

Locale: Seattle area
Re: Foot strike while hiking on 04/22/2013 19:59:27 MDT Print View

I wear Vivo Breathos backpacking. I think how you strike depends on how much you have strengthened your feet and legs, which can take years. Also a strong function of the ground surface. Hard surfaces lead me to less heal impact, while softer you can use a more normal heal strike walking gait.

mg