Running on Air

The first thing I think of when I think of inventions I would like to see are science fiction inspired things like teleportation or time machines. So thinking of something a little more realistic was a challenge, but after getting off the phone with my dad it occurred to me that I would like Mr. Musk to invent a running shoe technology that would truly prevent knee pain in older runners.

My dad has recently become more and more into running in the last couple of years. In high school he ran track and he had remained active for a long time until family life and work became good distractions from going to the gym. Now in his fifties, he is making a comeback. He trains pretty frequently and has built up an impressive stamina. That is until a few months ago his knees started becoming increasingly sensitive and finally quite painful.

A lot of runner’s experience knee pain as a result of overuse, direct trauma, misalignment, weak thigh muscles, and problems with feet. The paradox is that by trying to implement a healthy lifestyle practice of exercise, runners are often sacrificing their joint health. The typical treatment is rest, but taking time off makes getting back into an exercise routine incredibly difficult, especially when the pain is bond to come back in a few weeks.

Typically a lot of emphasis is put on the footwear, as one of the main reasons for runner’s knee results from issues with the feet. In 2010, a study showed that compared to running barefoot, “running in conventional running shoes increases stress on the knee joints up to 38%.”The study indicates that the potential increase in joint stress is that the shoes increase joint torque, which is a “measure of how much a force causes the joint to rotate.”

While the study does not recommend switching to barefoot running for other reasons, it does call into question the current design of running shoes. I think that if Elon Musk could design a running shoe that prevents unnecessary damage to the feet and there for knee joints of runners, he would be able to help a lot of aging people maintain healthy lifestyles.

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8 thoughts on “Running on Air”

  1. As a runner who has horrible knees, I sympathize with your dad. Its unfortunate that companies like Nike design shoes with so much padding in them, as padding is actually worse long-term for your joints. My dad who is also an avid runner uses barefoot running shoes, which provide the runner with less cushion and allow for more natural movement in our joints. The barefoot running movement is really interesting a so little conclusive research has been done on the effects of barefoot running. If runner’s made the transition to these shoes or to your invention, we could save millions of dollars in the healthcare industry from hip and knee replacement surgeries.

    Barefoot Running Shoe:


  2. As a former cross country runner, I developed a hatred of running in high school. At one point, I had a condition called Osgood-Schlatter disease, which is a bulge in the growth plate under the knee. Running only exacerbated my issue.

    As I looked to other forms of staying fit, I realized that running wasn’t really that great of an activity anyway. Sure, it was nice to get out in the fresh air every once in a while. However, by selecting other activities like the elliptical machine, bike, or even swimming, I could get just as good of a workout without the pain. If your end game is to increase your heart rate/burn calories, then why not just switch to an activity which accomplishes that and is good on your knees? I’m not convinced that sneakers are the problem – running is a brutal activity.


    1. I definitely agree with you, Shaun. Throughout high school and my first year of college I was a swimmer and water polo player, and both activities left me with some serious shoulder injuries. I think any sport at a competitive level can become damaging – especially given that the amount of practice easily leads to joint overuse. However, since I am retired, I’ve found that going for a swim and biking (mobile or stationary) are a lot harder to fit into my schedule. I think for the greater public it is easier to just throw on some sneakers and go for a run rather than getting a gym membership in order to access ellipticals, pools, and bikes. Although running will always be “a brutal activity,” shouldn’t the people who choose to engage in the activity should have the potential to delay, if not prevent, joint problems?


  3. I agree that running is often times an easier option to keep in shape, especially when balancing work and family. I think shoes like this would be a great invention, because knee/hip/joint pains can keep people from being active which can eventually turn into a lazy habit. An invention like this would allow people to stay fit without inducing the type of pain that makes a person stay at home instead of go for a run. My only concern would be the price for this type of shoe, because many of the people that may like to start exercising without pain come from low-income families. Some good running shoes do exist but they are expensive and only last around a year before they wear out. Would this shoe invention only be available to higher income families that can already afford getting a new pair of running shoes every year?


  4. Mary, I think this is a fascinating idea. Have you thought about how the structure of a shoe could be changed to prevent or reduce the torque? Unfortunately, shoes are somewhat limited in how they can be designed because they need to be in the basic shape of a foot. I don’t know a whole lot about the mechanics of shoe design, and as Jess said, more padding is not necessarily good. I definitely think there is a market for a better shoe product, particularly for athletics.

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