One of the biggest trends in the running world these days is barefoot running. As some runners are searching for the perfect shoe, to maximize performance, some people are getting rid of them all together. But is barefoot running better for your feet? That is the real question at hand.
Advocates of barefoot running would argue that running shoes are too inflexible. The current design of running shoes restricts the motion of the feet so much that they may be causing our feet to lose some resilience. When the foot gets weaker, it becomes more prone to injury.
Another part of the argue from advocates comes from the fact that running barefoot changes the mechanics of how you run. In theory, the foot will land more often toward the balls of the feet, when barefoot running. In the current situation, where people run with a pair of shoes, there is more likelihood that you will land on your heels. Once this happens, you are more likely to have a heel or ankle injury. Advocates of barefoot running would also argue the practice leads to less shin and leg muscle problems as well.
The barefoot running movement is even getting some help from the shoe companies. Nike has come out with a new shoe, called the Nike Free shoe, which claims to mimic barefoot running. In addition, there are some very trendy training methods making use of running in your bare feet. (Note the techniques being taught by the Pose Method and Chi Running.) This move to use only minimal footwear, or none at all, has definitely gained some ground from these popular techniques. These techniques want to emphasize body mechanics, with little concern for anything else. It is the allure of quasi-expertise.
If you ask a podiatrist, though, you will get a whole different story about the benefits of barefoot running. As you are running barefoot, you expose your feet to more cuts, scraps, bruises and unsanitary conditions. The barefoot running technique will also not completely stop you from landing on your heels either. Now you are landing on your heels barefoot, and you have no padding , to help you absorb the tremendous amount of stress placed on the heel. You may get some reduction in foot, shin and muscle injuries, but you gain more opportunities to seriously damage your feet.
Pedram Aslmand, DPM, a sports podiatrist in Long Beach, California is against barefoot running. He believes “hard surfaces such as concrete and asphalt are not very giving and without the right support and cushion you will do more damage to your joints, tendons and ligaments. ”
“There are people in parts of the world that run barefoot and are very good at it, but you have to bear in mind that they run on dirt and grass and they have been doing it since they were two years old. Their feet adapted to the terrain. ”
“I do not believe in the most expensive shoes being the right kind for you, but you have to be fitted for your foot-type. You can get a pair of thirty dollar shoes that will do a better than a 120 dollars shoes that is not for your foot type. ”
If you are a diabetic, you should refrain from barefoot running all together. The risk of a foot wound is too great, and the wound could lead to serious complications. Athletes with heel pain problems, foot pain or injuries should also refrain from barefoot running. Even the healthy barefoot runners start on grass, so as not to injure themselves early on in the training process.
Apart from the concerns raised by the foot care industry, one needs to also consider the fact that there is little to no research and/or scientific study on the subject of barefoot running. The single biggest study done on the subject looked at how much oxygen was used by runners with shoes, versus barefoot runners. The research on the potential damage that can be caused by barefoot running simply isn’t there yet.
There has been some research done on the subject of foot injuries caused by running shoes. One Canadian firm concluded that heavily cushioned shoes were more likely to cause injury than simple shoes. In further research, there was not a lot of evidence found to support the need to buy very expensive shoes. This is about all we have on research.
Rather than risk injury from barefoot running, most foot care specialists would prefer that their patients seek some guidance in picking out a shoe that is right for them. This is still the safest strategy for preventing foot injuries from running. Be sure to weigh all the evidence, before considering the sport of barefoot running.