Monday, December 7, 2009

Is Barefoot Running Beneficial Or Detrimental?

More reading about the barefoot running debate. From Podiatry Today.

By Lauren Grant, Assistant Editor

With the emergence of new research and more footwear that simulates barefoot running, the debate seems to be intensifying in the podiatry community about the merits of barefoot running.

In a recent study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, researchers assessed eight experienced barefoot runners and found that barefoot running led to more plantarflexion at the ankle, which facilitated a reduction in impact forces and shorter stride length. The study authors also found that a lightweight shoe (FiveFingers, Vibram) was “effective in imitating barefoot running conditions while providing a small amount of protection.”

Another recent study, which appeared in the Journal of Biomechanics, found increased eversion of the forefoot with barefoot locomotion. The study authors also noted that shoes “restrict the natural motion of the barefoot” and “impose a specific foot motion pattern” during the push-off phase.

Assessing The Biomechanical Strengths And Potential Drawbacks

Could the emergence of shoes that simulate barefoot running have an impact? Two podiatrists see pros and cons with these shoes when it comes to biomechanics and the training regimens of athletes.

“Increased torsional motion of the foot will likely stimulate activity of the intrinsic musculature of the foot,” explains Doug Richie, Jr., DPM, a Past President of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. “Stronger intrinsic muscles in the human foot could conceivably improve foot function and efficiency in running gait. However, this has not been proven in any credible scientific study.”

Jenny Sanders, DPM, says barefoot running shoes are designed to promote forefoot contact over heel contact.

“This does two things. It reduces the impact of heel strike, which improves shock absorption throughout the rearfoot and midfoot,” notes Dr. Sanders, who is in private practice in San Francisco. “(These shoes) also alter the center of gravity forward with the feet being centered below the hip, which is a much more stable alignment.”

In terms of potential weaknesses of these shoes, Dr. Richie says a lack of cushioning may increase the risk of certain injuries. In his clinical experience, he has seen many running injuries that were “impact-related and could be related to shoes with poor cushioning.” However, Dr. Richie concedes that the literature is inconclusive on the cause-effect relationship between impact and running injury.

He maintains that the lack of torsional stability in minimalist shoes will likely put strain on the plantar aponeurosis and increase the risk of plantar heel syndrome. Dr. Richie adds that the lack of heel elevation in these shoes will cause eccentric loading of the Achilles tendon and calf musculature. “In runners who have not adapted to this footwear design, the risk of Achilles tendon injuries could be expected to increase,” notes Dr. Richie, an Adjunct Clinical Professor of Biomechanics at the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt University.

Dr. Sanders says a significant concern is the possibility that runners may see these shoes as a new fad and train without proper conditioning or assessment.

“If the running shoe is not a match to your foot type and running biomechanics, injuries will occur,” notes Dr. Sanders. “In addition to shoes, I think too many runners have not been adequately coached in proper form. The best running shoe design in the world coupled with poor running form has little chance of benefitting a runner.”


  1. I'm a keen barefooter! I used to have terrible heel pain when i ran in regular running shoes but now thanks to wearing my FiveFingers the pain has gone! I terms of what Dr Sanders says about getting injuries if you haven't adapted to them properly, its always advised with barefoot shoes that you start off slowly with them. Try them on first and wear them around the house, then maybe go for a short walk... don't run or wear them for long periods walking unless your completely comfortable to do so! It can be a shock to your feet - but with persistance and time you'll love them!

  2. I'm also a big fan of the barefoot form (I do some barefoot running - completely without shoes - but not as much now in the cold). I run in VFFs and have to say they have saved me. I had a terrible back injury last May and after surgery could only run in Vivo Barefoot or VFFs. What makes all the difference is in these shoes I can land on my forefoot with bent knee. That way my arch and legs take all the shock out of landing, freeing my back. Running in Asics Kayanos (which I thought would be safer because of all the padding! Boy was I wrong!!) is what caused my injury in the first place.

    I have more shoe options listed on my site as well as a 12 Step Program to Run Shodless to help people ramp up slowly. Link:

    Thanks for the insightful article!