Barefoot Running

A recent news article on barefoot running, televised and published mid January 2010 seems to have the running world in a spin.

Bare foot running, is running without wearing any shoes on the feet and has had a following for a number of years, with many barefoot runners saying they suffer less injury than shod runners.

Picture of foot

The human foot

Many hardcore barefooter’s such as Ken Bob Saxton, a marathon runner in California, prefer harder surfaces of roads and pavements to the softer terrain of grass and earth.

Much research has been done over the years into barefoot running but if you think about it, it is common sense.

We are not born with shoes on our feet but from the age of 1 upwards, we incarcerate them in fashion shoes, provide them with cushioning which they do not need and then struggle give them the support that they would have had if they had been left alone in the first place.

Our world is no longer as simple as it used to be and man made structures, working practices and our environment, means that walking around barefoot would just be plain dangerous, so footwear also plays a large protective role.

The human foot is not just a bag of bones which propels us forward.  It is an intricate structure of tactile senors, just like the sense of touch in your hand and receptors which control our balance (proprioception).  The ability to walk on two feet requires fine mechanics and strong structures combined with these sensors to make us one of the most unique animals on the planet.

Years of wearing shock absorbing footwear results in the foot losing many of its basic natural functions, the arch weakens, tendons are strained, resulting in knee, hip and back pain as well as the associated foot problems of plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, shin splints and strains.

Various studies are indicating that less injuries occur in barefoot runners than in shod runners.  In fact some footwear can seem to cause injuries such as ankle sprains, due to the lack of stability provided by too much cushioning.

A Sports Science Journal – Barefoot running article by Michael Warburton, Gateway Physiotherapy, Capalaba, Queensland, Australia 4157concluded that;

Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of ankle sprains, either by decreasing awareness of foot position or by increasing the twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble.
•       Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of plantar fasciitis and other chronic injuries of the lower limb by modifying the transfer of shock to muscles and supporting structures.
•       Running in bare feet reduces oxygen consumption by a few percent.  Competitive running performance should therefore improve by a similar amount, but there has been no published research comparing the effect of barefoot and shod running on simulated or real competitive running performance.
•       Research is needed to establish why runners choose not to run barefoot. Concern about puncture wounds, bruising, thermal injury, and overuse injury during the adaptation period are possibilities.
•       Running shoes play an important protective role on some courses, in extreme weather conditions, and with certain pathologies of the lower limb.

Changing to barefoot running has to be a careful transition and is a completely different style of motion.
There is no heel strike and the muscles and soft tissues of the foot need to be well balanced in order to support the arch and provide the spring we need for forward motion.
The stride is shorter, placing stress more evenly through the knee and hip joint.
Posture often has to be retrained
Learning to run barefoot requires training and some foot pathologies may not allow the runner to go barefoot, so it is always wise to seek professional advice before embarking on this venture.  Simply throwing your runners away and going out barefoot will result in a whole new world of pain and injury.

More information
Sportsci.org – Barefoot Running article by Michael Warburton.
Barefoot Runner website
BBC news article – “Shoes may have changed the way we run”.
“Should you be running barefoot?” – Runner’s world article.

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