Barefoot running has become popular and does have advantages. But does this mean that you should ditch your shoes and hit the pavement with no protection. To answer these we must look at the pros and cons of barefoot running.
Barefoot running, unlike exercising in shoes, allows your foot muscles to do their jobs. Your intrinsic or deep foot muscles are supposed to help stabilize the foot while allowing them to form to the terrain around you. These muscles are traditionally weak or overused due to today’s footwear. High heels or raised heels can shorten the foot causing the foot muscles to tighten along with the joints. Wearing the wrong shoe, motion control or minimalist when not needed, can weaken the foot muscles.
Barefoot running encourages forefoot striking instead of heel striking. Forefoot striking is a more natural running form and is more efficient, so less energy is used. Any runner, beginning or advanced, understands that running efficiently is very important. Although, forefoot striking is natural, those accustomed to heel striking or rearfoot running experience an increase in Achilles tendon injuries when running barefoot.
Barefoot running leaves your feet open to the terrain. This exposes the runner to higher risk of puncture wounds, infection and other potential injuries. Having a clean field, trail, track or sidewalk is not an easy thing to find. Most running tails contain rocks and other dangerous obstacles that can cause serious injury to an unprotected foot.
Barefoot running depletes the fat pads located in the heels. Studies have shown that running barefoot or in minimalist shoes causes the depletion of the protective fat pads located in the heels. This syndrome is also common in the over weight individual. Decreasing the fat pad can cause irritation to the heel bone and nerves causing pain and symptoms mimicking plantar fasciitis. Heel cups like, Tuli’s Classic Gel Heel Cups, Regular (Under 175lbs), can help if this issue develops.
Barefoot running can be beneficial if done correctly and your foot is prepared. I advise my athletes to start by walking around the house barefoot or in a minimalist shoe and than start walking in a safe area outside. While in the beginning phases of walking barefoot, rehabbing the foot muscle should be a priority. Click here for exercises. Strengthening insoles can be helpful as well. After walking and rehab, one can transition to light running and work up to 3 miles in barefoot or minimalist.
Yours in health,
Dr. Justin Hildebrand