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When Shoes Attack (Me): ITB Pain Caused by the New Balance Minimus Trail?

Today I ran 10.3 miles in my Saucony Kinvaras and it did not hurt – in fact, it was one of the best runs I’ve had since I ran the Manchester City Marathon in early November. This statement in and of itself may not seem all that significant – I run a lot of miles, and the vast majority of them don’t hurt. That was not the case when I ran last Friday night.

Last month I put up a first look review of the much anticipate New Balance Minimus Trail shoe that is set to hit the market in early 2011. In that post, I proclaimed after having run in them two times that the Minimus Trail was near perfection in a running shoe. I meant it. I was quite smitten with the shoe – it looked great, it fit like a glove, and it handled beautifully on the road and trail. I was convinced that it was going to be the perfect hybrid shoe, one that would be wearable in almost any type of conditions. Unfortunately, as can sometimes happen in relationships that start with a bang, things turned sour quickly.

New Balance Minimus Trail

It started just before Thanksgiving. My family and I were traveling to Maine, and I was going to bring the Minimus Trail with me since there was a chance of snow and I wanted something that would provide decent traction in case it got slick. I opted to wear the Trails on the car ride up, and upon putting them on I noticed a sharp, painful sensation at the base of my pinky toe on my right foot (in the region indicated by the red circle above). I thought nothing of it at first as I hadn’t felt it on any of my earlier runs, but the pressure never went away. Upon inspecting the shoe when I arrived in Maine, it looked like there was a manufacturing asymmetry (see photo below) that had caused the black band across the metatarsal heads to be tighter on the right side (indicated by the yellow line in the photo above). The intersection between this band and the black strip that holds the laces was pushing into my foot, right above the joint between my pinky toe and the 5th metatarsal head. I thought about trying to trim some material from inside the shoe, but opted not to since I didn’t want to destroy it in the process.

Minimus Asymmetry

Manufacturing asymmetry in the Minimus Trail? Yellow arrows show how the upper material appears to be pulled down further in the right foot shoe (on left in photo), and the black metatarsal band seems pulled down as well. The right foot shoe is significantly tighter than the left foot shoe.

I thought maybe a bit of breaking in would stretch the metatarsal band out, so I decided to go for a treadmill run in the shoes while in Maine. It was at that point that things really began to get ugly. About 15 minutes into my run, I noticed a burning sensation just above my left knee (opposite side from the pinky toe pain). The pain got progressively worse, eventually to the point where I cut the run short for fear that I might do some damage. I knew this pain. When I was in graduate school I had experienced the exact same thing, which I self-diagnosed as iliotibial band syndrome. Yes, the dreaded ITBS. Back then a simple change of shoes made the pain go away (they were a half size too large and probably not meant for running), but I was puzzled by what was going on with the Minimus Trail since I had run in them previously without any issue, and I’d had no signs of ITB pain on previous runs (or in recent memory for that matter). I thought maybe the treadmill was to blame since I hadn’t run on one for some time, but the memory of my bad shoes from grad school lingered – the shoes had caused it then, and perhaps they were causing it now.

Two days later I somewhat fearfully decided to test the knee out with a 5 mile run in my ever-trusty Saucony Kinvaras, and to my surprise I was totally pain free. No issues whatsoever. The cause of the ITB pain was either the treadmill or the shoes, and being somewhat cautious, I opted to wait a bit before taking the shoes out again. About two weeks later I decided to try out a treadmill again, this time in my own basement with only a pair of thin socks on my feet to help reduce belt friction. I like to do slow runs “barefoot” on the treadmill from time to time, and this one went just fine. No pain at all.

Fast forward to last Friday – Christmas Eve. I had the opportunity to get in a quick run, so I decided to bring the Minimus Trail back out and was going to go for an easy 5 miles. Sure enough, just over 2 miles into the run, I felt that familiar pain begin to develop above my left knee – my ITB was definitely not happy. Once again, it got so bad that I almost had to curtail the run. I managed to really focus on my form, and exaggerating a forefoot strike allowed the pain to subside just enough for me to make it home and complete the five miles without walking (it was cold and getting dark, I was sweating, and the thought of walking 2.5 miles home did not excite me very much). This was the first run since the treadmill run on Thanksgiving weekend on which I had experienced the ITB pain. Maybe it was the shoes.

Jump ahead to earlier today. I’ve been slacking on my long runs lately, and I was determined to get in a 10 miler before our first big snowstorm of the year hit (we’re in the thick of it as I write this!). The Kinvaras worked well for me last time I had the ITB pain, so I opted to wear my old faithful’s once again. After lunch and a bit of shopping with the family, my wife dropped me off about 7 miles from home, and I improvised a very hilly 10+ mile run back to my house, paying close attention to my knee the entire way. Just like on the previous occasion, I felt no pain on the entire run. Quite honestly, it was one of the best runs I’ve had in over a month, and I felt I could easily have gone another 5-10 miles. So, two days after hobbling to finish a 5 miler because my knee was screaming, I ran 10 miles at a faster pace and felt no pain at all.

At this point, I’m fairly certain that the NB Minimus Trail caused the ITB pain, but I have no idea why. Two runs seprated by an entire month’s time, both on very different surfaces (treadmill vs. road), both resulting in significant ITB pain. The runs before and after each of these runs (in different shoes) were pain free, and as far as I can recollect I have not had any ITB pain on any run for the past 3+ years. I simply don’t know what else to conclude.

My goal in this post is not to bash the New Balance Minimus Trail shoes – in fairness, I should point out that others have reviewed them very favorably after running a lot of miles in them (e.g., Jason Robillard at Barefoot Running University). However, for me to maintain credibility I need to be honest, and I would hope that New Balance would like all types of feedback, both positive and negative. I hate to say it, but I think I’m going to have to give up on this shoe – I simply don’t want to risk a lingering injury, and the only real commonality between my two bouts of ITB pain is the fact that these were the shoes on my feet when they happened. I don’t yet have any idea why this problem might be occurring, or whether it has any relation to the tight metatarsal band on the right-side shoe. It’s hard to see how this might cause ITB pain on the left, but balance in running is a funny thing, and small deviations can sometimes cause unforeseen problems. It’s also entirely possible that despite my initially glowing thoughts about the shoe, the Minimus Trail may just not be the right shoe for my foot.

At the end of all this, I’m fairly well convinced that shoes can in at least some cases cause injury – add me to the list of anecdotes. Both times in my life that I have experienced ITB pain have been resolved by changing shoes. I don’t know if the pain would persist if I kept running in the Minimus Trail, or if I restricted myself only to trail runs in them, but it’s an experiment that I’m not all that excited about conducting. I may have to do a bit of filming to satisfy my curiosity, but for now, the shoes will be resting in my closet for the foreseeable future.

Update 12/27/2010: Also wanted to add that I am running in the New Balance Minimus Road with no trouble at all (it’s breaking in well), and I have now also done a few trail runs in the NB MT101 with no problems.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the post. I bought a pair of NB several years ago and after running in them for a few weeks, noticed a marked asymmetry in my shoe’s construction (mine was with regards to the heel counter). I think they are a great company and appreciate what they are doing with regards to minimalistic footwear. I have not bought any NB since that time, partially because of the flaw in the shoes. I did not feel that the shoes should have ever made it through even a cursory screening process.

    I am going to try out a pair of MT101. I’m sure other shoe companies have similar problems at times.

  2. AshwynGray says:

    Wow! This is a very educational post, Pete! Thanks for the honest revelation here. It’s nice to be aware of the potential pitfalls in the design of the Minimus Trail. Naruay5327′s theory about making up for pain on one side by altering your gait on the left side is definitely interesting.
    In any case, I’m glad the pain didn’t sideline you for any extended period. Hurray for shoes that work for ya!

  3. ms_golightly says:

    You have just given me hope. I am leaving for PT in about an hour for ITBS that has been plaguing me since October and has totally messed with my training.

    I was in old shoes in need of replacement when my IT band issues began creeping up on me, and immediately thought to change my shoes. I was also in the midst of changing my whole running style from heel strike to mid/fore, and when I informed the expert at my local running store of all these things, he set me up with a pair of Asics that he felt would be a good transitional shoe for me. The ITBS has only gotten worse, and I can not run more than a mile before it kicks in. I fell in love with racing this summer and was beginning training for a half when this all began. There is nothing worse than actually wanting to go pump out 8 miles, only to be held back by such a debilitating injury. I am hoping against hope that a shoe change could work for me. Thank you!

  4. I think it’s pretty easy to see how it happened on the opposite side. If you were experiencing pain from the shoe on the right, then you’d unconsciously alter your gait to put less weight on it. That means your left has to land more towards your centerline (left foot lands more to the right) to keep you moving in a straight line. That would put more pressure on the ITB.

    Also, while the Kinvara has the same dop in an unloaded state, I believe that the forefoot lugs on the Kinvara will compress more in use, making the effective drop more than the manufactured 4mm. I’d like to see the Kinvara made with a more “solid” construction in the forefoot.

  5. Sobering post. Glad you seemed to narrow it down to the NB Minimus Trail shoes. I was really looking forward to the Minimus Trail and the Altra Adam this spring. I better not get too excited. Thanks for the update. Also, in a month or two, toss in an update on the Saucony Kinvara. I keep telling myself it’s “too much shoe” for me, but maybe not.
    -Chris

  6. Reallynotarunner says:

    Wow. This scares me. I’ve been looking forward to the release of the NB Minimus (Road and Trail) because I can’t run in VFF’s due to partially webbed toes, and I’ve had ITBS issues in the past… Thanks for the heads-up. I will proceed cautiously.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Doug – my guess is you will probably have no problem, but I felt compelled
      to share my story. The Minimus Road is working just fine for me.

  7. Naruay5327 says:

    I have heard of something like that, where a situation in the right foot leads to pains on the left side. If the shoe is giving you pain on your right foot, you might be subconsciously altering your stride to favor your left leg, thereby resulting in ITB pains. That’s why when you switch shoes, the pain goes away.

  8. Just rec’d my second pair of M.T. First was orange and too small (11 US). This pair is black (11.5). Both pair had the irregularity. This pair, the foot bed is wrinkled under the arch, too. On this second pair, the “strap” portion of the upper is further forward on the left than the right. Also, the strap feels awfully snug, even without socks on. I’m going to give them a fair shake but if they’re causing undue friction, etc., they’re going back within the 30 days. Just because everything’s made in China, doesn’t mean we have to put up with poor quality, especially at this price.

  9. Thomas Neuberger says:

    I hope companies appreciate honest reviews. I do. When it comes to purchasing equipment we all have limited budgets. If someone were to buy the shoe and not have the option of switching to another shoe they may try to run through the pain. If one were to get injured doing this they may end up buying a bike and abandoning running altogether. The horror. Anyhow, better to get the right shoe with the right fit and stay healthy.

  10. Had a similar experience in my Brooks Green Silences. Switched to MT101s and the problem went away instantly. Sometimes a shoe doesn’t jive with the wearer.

  11. Danielfroelich says:

    My first run in these shoes were fantastic.  However, my second run (about 7 miles) resulted in significant pain in my right knee.  I had to stop so many times I lost count.  I do not have the  greatest knees in the world, but I’ve never had significant pain that forced me to stop mid run and later turned me into a couch potato with an ice bag.   

  12. FoCoRunner says:

    I find it interesting. I assume the function of the metatarsal band in the shoe is to keep the foot positioned stably over the sole. The second I saw that in the design, I was disappointed, because snugness of fit across the metatarsal heads is one of the things that causes me problems with shoes in general. The foot seems meant to splay and roll across the metatarsal heads. I have experienced some opposite side injuries due to altered gait on one side, so that is plausible, but I could always detect the gait alteration that was contributing.

    There is no difference in the heel-toe drop with these shoes, so a greater dorsiflexion under load shouldn’t be exaggerating pronation or causing any different internal rotation or flex at the knee (contributor to ITBS), but is the kinvara’s sole broader/flatter laterally in the forefoot, providing a wider , more stable platform? Perhaps the Minimus is narrow and shaped to allow for some lateral roll that is altering your gait unfavorably?

    It’s quite a conundrum, but I wonder if there is anything to be learned from the bit of relief you got from exaggerating your forefoot strike to make it through that recent 5 miler.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Mark,

      There is a 4mm heel lift in the Minimus trail, so it is not completely
      flat. Yes, the Kinvara has a wider base in the forefoot, and if I had
      to guess, rolling of my foot may be the culprit. Definitely have to
      try some film.

      Pete

      On Monday, December 27, 2010, Disqus

      • FoCoRunner says:

        Ah, I was under the impression that the minimus was a zero-drop shoe. So confusing since there is still not operational definition of “minimalist.”

  13. On another note, you may want to do some hip/glute strengthening and some general trigger point massage to alleviate any adhesions. At some point you may decide to run some uneven trails or mountain ridge runs and if just two miles of slight imbalance creates ITBS you could have issues in your more reliable shoes as well over challenging terrain.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Good suggestion John. I think the bigger problem is that running on roads in
      these shoes exacerbated the problem since there is so little variability in
      terrain. If they are causing an imbalance, there would be a lot less relief
      on uniform terrain., which may be why I had no trouble on trails in them.

  14. Thanks for your honesty in your write up. It’s good to see both the positive and negative experiences you have and know you’re not withholding any info or pulling any punches.do you think it could have been a sewing or manufacturing defect with that pair only? By the way if you’ve need a second opinion on them, I’ll try them out for you. ;)

    • Pete Larson says:

      It’s tough – I really want to like these shoes as there is so much
      that is positive about them. I do think it’s quite possible that it’s
      just me, but time will tell as they get put on more feet.

      Pete

      On Monday, December 27, 2010, Disqus

      • I don’t see any mention of follow-up from New Balance re the “irregular” manufacturing issue. Could they send you a pair without this problem? Have they said anything?

        • Pete Larson says:

          No, not yet. I may try to contact them and see if I can get a replacement.

          Pete

          On Tuesday, December 28, 2010, Disqus

          • The Kinvara and Mt101 are a great combo. Purchased the kinvara and the mt100 in late spring and recently updated to the 101-ran my fastest 50K so far-4:55. Don’t count the Minimus out until you log some significant trail miles in.

    • Pete Larson says:

      It’s tough – I really want to like these shoes as there is so much
      that is positive about them. I do think it’s quite possible that it’s
      just me, but time will tell as they get put on more feet.

      Pete

      On Monday, December 27, 2010, Disqus

  15. Sad to hear about your injury, but good to hear that you are able to continue running on another pair of shoes.

    This is the type of occasion when finding out for sure what caused it can be pretty damaging. I once foolishly tried to outrun ITB -Thought it coudn’t be the shoes, since I ran miles and miles on them without any problem-, but failed. Got me a new pair of shoes. It took some weeks to recover.

    Form a behavioural perspective, it seems like a nice example of classical conditioning in action (shoe = pain => avoid shoe) and solving the issue pretty well.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Funny you mention classical conditioning – the psychological fear of
      repeat ITB pain is what kept me out of them for a month! Thankfully
      past experience with this issue taught me that shoes can be the cause.

      Pete

      On Monday, December 27, 2010, Disqus

      • Is your theory at this point more that the shoe’s construction has somehow altered your running form or more that the shoe is directly affecting your ITB somehow?

        • Pete Larson says:

          For the shoe to affect my ITB, it would have to be messing with my
          form somehow since the ITB connects just below the knee. A bit of slow
          motion film from behind might be revealing.

          Pete

          On Monday, December 27, 2010, Disqus

  16. I’ve had the same experience with Newton’s…

  17. Pete,

    Sorry to hear about your pain and bad time running. I will be very curious to see if NB replaces the shoe. Is the “asymetrical defect” that you found consistent in the other Minimus trail shoes? Do you think you might have gotten a bad pair?

    Thanks again, and may you and your family have a safe and wonderful New Year!!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Jamie, I think it was just a flaw in this one shoe, so likely not a
      systematic problem. Don’t know if the flaw is what is causing my
      trouble though.

      Pete

      On Tuesday, December 28, 2010, Disqus

      • Good luck Pete.

        I hope it works out for you. It realy sucks when you think you have a piece of gear figured out and then find not so much!!!

        I give you credit for knowing when to call it quits and stop running in them.

        I have been having a great time running on my Newton Gravity’s since November and plan to runt the Sugar loaf Marathon in May wearing them.

        For trails I am still planning on getting a pair of NB minimus in March when they are available and also the INOV8 X Talon 212

        Let us know if NB sends you a new pair.

        Thanks Again,

        Jamie

  18. Andrew W. Lischuk says:

    Too bad about the ITB, but glad to hear you got to the bottom of it. I was wondering if you could compare the NB Minimus Road to the Saucony Kinvaras. I’m loving the Saucony but know that the minimal tread coupled with my 6’4 200lb frame will eventually break down and I’m wondering if the additional tread on the NB would be easier on varied road terrain.

    Considering the New Year is upon us and your penchant for running shoes maybe you’ll grace us with a year end Top Ten Shoes for 2010!

    • Pete Larson says:

      The Minimus Road seems like it may be a bit more durable given that
      the outsole covers the entire bottom of the shoe. However, it is much
      firmer, so it’s a different feel than the Kinvara. The Minimus Road is
      growing on me after some initial uncertainty regarding the firmness.

      I have though about doing a top shoes of 2010 post – stay tuned!

      Pete

      On Monday, December 27, 2010, Disqus

  19. Sam Winebaum says:

    I wonder if the combination of the pull of the black bands and the vibram labeled rubber protector seen in your review photos are combining to jam and pull your pinky toe and foot towards the other side of the shoe. I am unclear as to the purpose of the rubber side bumper rising so high.

    While there appears to be plenty of toe room in the shoe compressing or squeezing the metatarsals may be causing the toe issues and then ITB. As far as the car ride and treadmill both of these situations “lock” the foot into a single position as there is no give or even angles to the surface side to side as one might find on the road. Does the Minimus have a firm plate in the forefoot? If it did this might contribute to the foot torquing against that tight spot instead of spreading out on impact.You might try once more on all this new snow once it firms up a bit!
    You are right to back to old familiars if you can.
    Sam

    samwinebaum.blogspot.com

    • Pete Larson says:

      Sam,

      No hard plate, so that’s not the issue. I’ve been running in the
      MT101′s, which do have rock plate, without issue so far. What I find
      interesting is that the right shoe is tight on my toe, but the pain is
      on the left side. The left shoe feels perfect. However, I’m not a big
      fan of the band across the metatarsals – not sue why you’d want to
      limit forefoot spreading in a minimalist shoe.

      I may have to try one more run on trails just to see if the road and
      treadmill aren’t suited for this shoe, or I may send them back to NB
      and let them have a look.

      Pete

      On Monday, December 27, 2010, Disqus

  20. My IT bands, particularly my left one, are extremely sensitive to shoe changes. I’m currently transitioning from Asics Kayanos to Nike Lunar Glides without any incident to speak of so far. I have tried other brands/models that resulted in severe IT pain within just a few weeks. I also develop IT pain with certain inserts and insoles (which I am now trying to stay clear of all together). I think your review is honest (not ‘bashing’) and you considered several scenarios before deciding these shoes just aren’t right for you. There is no question for me that shoes can cause injury. Not completely sure of the cause, but I’m definitely learning which shoe models to pass up!

    Happy New Year!!

  21. I believe it! I had a similar experience. Switching to Kinvaras has helped heal a year of foot problems.

  22. Sorry to hear about your discomfort and misfortune. I dealt with some real bad ITB pain in Spring of 2010. Post-run stretching and just running through it was what helped me (and a foam roller). Obviously everyone is different, and if a certain pair of shoes is causing the issue then that’s a whole ‘nother story… (and easier to fix/pinpoint)

    I was holding out for a pair of these Minimus Trails but I broke down and bought some MT101′s. Boy am I glad I did! Great shoes. Wish I could be more descriptive but for now I can only say that they feel great on my feet and make my runs even more enjoyable. Nice and light/minimal, and the rockstop plate really helps on my Winter runs on jagged frozen ice/snow.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I just broke down and bought the MT101′s myself. They are working out well,
      though I wish I could take about 6mm off the heel.

  23. Very interesting. When we think that “form is everything”, we realize that shoes are also important.
    Best regards,
    Sergio
    corredorfeliz.blogspot.com

  24. RicksRunning says:

    Pete,As an extreme example of how a shoe can cause injury let me tell you my story;
    Last month I bought a pair of trail shoes from my local supermarket as a sort of experiment.
    They were very cheap but looked well made, almost a zero heel-toe lift, quite light and they had great grip. they looked idea for some of my off road runs.
    Within a 1/4 of a mile I started to get sharp pains in both feet, by a mile a old sciatic problem flaired up really badly.
    By the time I got home I was really worried that I’d done some lasting damage to myself!
    Thankfully changing back to my normal minimal shoes the next day had me running pain free again :]
    This is a pretty extreme example of how a shoe can affect you but I was quite amazed by how much.

  25. eyalasko says:

    Hi there,

    Can anyone confirm/reject that this flaw exists also on the gray/yellow model (as well as the black/orange model presented above) ?

    Thanks

  26. Just picked up an orange pair and they also have this defect on the right shoe. Not to the extent of the pair above but noticeable when they’re on. Going back to exchange them today.

  27. I am having the same issues with my NB Minimus. I absolutely love the shoes, have run a ton in them but recently have been having the same pain around mile 1. I cant do anything to get rid of it.

    I will try out some other shoes soon and see if it goes away.

    Thanks for sharing!

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