Barefoot Running: What Science Says About Ditching Your Shoes

woman running barefootOpinions among Florida orthopedic specialists and others vary on the safety of running barefoot or “minimal” or “barefoot running” shoes like the Vibrum FiveFingers . However, many experts agree that generally it’s best to wear traditional running shoes

The American Council on Exercise says, “Going barefoot or wearing Vibrams will affect which muscles are used and how you use them, all the way up the kinetic chain…And the results of those changes are uncertain.”’

The Case Against Barefoot Running Shoes

Vibram USA settled a class action suit last year and agreed to give a partial refund to customers who bought their FiveFingers running shoes. Plaintiffs claimed that the company lacked scientific evidence to support its claims that its shoes strengthened feet and lower leg muscles, allowing the body to move more naturally than traditional running shoes and improved range of motion.

During the case, the practice of actual barefoot running came under scrutiny. A representative of the American Podiatric Medicine Association testified that the practice of barefoot running that the Vibram shoes are meant to simulate can be harmful because there is “a lack of protection” for the runner as well as “increased stress on the lower extremities.”

Adapting to Barefoot Running

Part of the problem is that runners who wear traditional running shoes generally use a heel-strike running style, whereas those who run barefoot or in thin-soled shoes generally have to use a forefront strike. That transition is difficult to make for some runners, particularly as they get older. This means that many new barefoot runners are hitting the ground with an unprotected heel. One study found that runners 30 and older do not adapt as quickly to barefoot running.

One Harvard Law School professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, however, argues that we over-support our feet by wearing traditional running shoes. She says, “When you support a muscle, it doesn’t have to work as hard. When it doesn’t have to work as hard, it gets weak.” The professor argues that our feet know how to adjust instinctively when we move from running shoes to barefoot running.man running barefoot

The Case for Barefoot Running

Some sufferers of chronic or severe stress injuries find that barefoot running is the only way they can continue the activity they love. Those who swear by barefoot running argue that it improves their alignment. By using front-strikes where they land on the balls of their feet instead of heel strikes, they generate less force on the lower part of the body, including hips and knees. This can prevent these stress fractures and other injuries like tendonitis.

Before moving to barefoot running, however, it is important to consult a sports medicine physician who treats runners. He or she can advise you, based on your specific issues and situation, if it is the best choice for you.

At Southeast Orthopedic Specialists, we have highly-trained, renowned sports medicine specialists who provide the highest quality of care in Northeast Florida. Call us or fill out our online appointment request form to schedule a consultation with one of them today.

Frank Collier – Pain Management Specialist | SouthEast Orthopedic Specialist

Frank Collier, MD

Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Pain Management Specialist

Dr. Frank Collier is a board-certified Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician and Pain Management Specialist who specializes in the treatment of injuries and illnesses that affect how people move and function while living with pain.



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