Barefoot Running: Should you or shouldn’t you?

barefoot_runningWhat do you wear on your feet when you run? Shoes of course! But do you really need shoes? The vast majority of people would say, “Yes, of course!” In Winnipeg half the year is winter running on snow and ice would not be very fun. But there are those who are ditching their shoes all together and training barefoot or in minimalist shoes (. The main reason for training barefoot, by barefoot runners, is often because it helped the person with their plantafasciitis, achille’s tendonitis, knee pain, ITB pain, hip pain, or lower back pain.

Proponents for barefoot running indicate that our feet are meant to respond to the surfaces that they encounter and this form of running results in less force on the body. Conventional shoes allow for cushioning and protection from the ground and weakens the muscles in the feet.  Running barefoot strengthens the foot.

The skeptic in me started to question.  Is there really a difference when running with or without shoes?  Do injuries occur less often while training barefoot?

Is there a difference in running style?

So I did a search on pubmed using the terms “barefoot running” and “barefoot running injuries” . This is what I discovered about barefoot running verses running with shoes:

  • Those who run without shoes tend to land on their forefoot versus their heel (with shoes).  
  • Barefoot runners have shorter stride lengths
  • Barefoot running has an increase in stride frequency.
  • Vertical ground reaction forces are lower in barefoot runners
There seems to be a natural change in running style when going from shoes to barefoot.  It stands to reason, striking your heel down onto a hard surface would be much more stressful than landing on the forefoot and absorbing the force with the feet and calf muscles.
Do injuries occur less often?

When it comes to injuries there doesn’t appear to be any research that shows an actual reduction in injury rate.  There was one interesting article that found a reduction in pain in those with chronic anterior  compartment syndrome. The two individuals in this study showed improvements with training barefoot and performing rehab exercises intended to prepare them for barefoot running.  All other reports were more anecdotal evidence.  I also saw a case report of a person who developed a metatarsal stress fracture as a result of running barefoot (abstract only). 

In my Chiropractic practise I have had patients report to me of there injuries improving while running barefoot. I have also seen patients who develop Achille’s tendonopathy/tendonitis as a result of running barefoot.

Conclusion

There appears to be some logic to the argument of running barefoot.  The resolution of symptoms in runners’ injuries may be a result of changes in running mechanics thus placing less stress on the offended tissues.  The shoes that these runners were wearing, though intended to help, may actually be causing the problem.  Weakening of the foot musculature may be the result of many of the foot, ankle, knee, hip or back ailments that runners experience.  Therefore, at this point in time, I recommend some barefoot training inserted into a running program.  This will give the muscles of the feet an opportunity to train and strengthen.

To prepare yourself for barefoot running, start with walking around your house barefoot. Try walking as if you are sneaking across a floor that squeaks; “tip toe across the floor”.  Progress to light jogging on grass for short distances. Increase your volume and speed as you see fit. You can also work on skipping and making sure to land on the forefoot; both one leg and two leg skipping.  You may also want to consider strengthening up the feet musculature with towel crunch exercises and stretching your calf muscles more frequently.

If you have any questions feel free and ask.
Dr Notley

2 thoughts on “Barefoot Running: Should you or shouldn’t you?

  1. Given the choice I would rather run in bare feet myself, just as indicated in the picture – meaning running on grass, not cement. It is a textural thing as well as the fact that the lawn would absorb more shock than running on cement. Problem is where can a person do this? My own yard is really the only answer – anywhere else a person risks running on broken glass. Actually I guess a beach would be okay, I would think the sand would not allow the glass (if there was any) to penetrate the foot. However my point is that running barefoot is more sensual and on a mental health level I find that greatly rewarding. Very professional blog – well done.

  2. Pingback: Choosing the right shoe and how to strengthen feet | Dr Christopher Notley Chiropractor and Athletic TherapistDr Christopher Notley Chiropractor and Athletic Therapist

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