Barefoot Running

Is it beneficial or detrimental?

Barefoot running is it good or bad for you? It is the hot topic with runners, trainers and sports medicine doctors.

The introduction of barefoot running shoes such as Vibram Five Finger shoes and the more traditional Nike Free shoes and the Newton Running shoes have fueled the debate as to whether barefoot running is good or bad.

The popular selling Born to Run by ultra runner Christopher McDougall adds to the controversy as well. He brags about the advantage of barefoot running and questions the advice of running shoe companies, podiatrists, orthotics and sports medicine specialists in general.

What we know is that 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 mid foot.

These shoes also alter the center of gravity, moving it over the feet, forward with the feet being centered below the hip, which can be a more stable alignment so you can also work with gravity instead of against it.

Remember running is a series of forward falls done with the proper training, I believe protective barefoot running can be beneficial part of a training program.

There have been studies that barefoot running shoes put the forefoot in an abnormal position however in relationship to the ground. This position is called everted or tilted up away from the center of your body in relationship to the heel.

Ideally the rearfoot and forefoot should be parallel to each other.

A runner without proper strengthening exercises and training may end up with the same type of injury seen in traditional runners such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis and stress fractures.

With barefoot running, there may be an inherited strengthening of the intrinsic or small muscles of the feet (which are not exercised in shod runners), but there has not been any credible scientific studies that prove this to be true at this time.

I believe at this time more research is needed to get real answers. I advised my runners to evaluate their running history for injuries before embarking on barefoot running.

Also I recommend finding an experienced coach in this area before barefoot running on your own. There are coaches that teach the Pose Technique that may be excellent sources of information for you.

Without good scientific research, it is hard to say whether or not there are multiple running forms necessary for different foot types. It is not certain what foot type would be best for any different type of running form.

With every new technique that comes along you must do your homework and see if this technique will be right for you.

I also believe in moderation and blending enthusiasm with knowledge.

I would like to thank Podiatry Today Magazine, Lauren Grant, Assistant Editor and Dr. Jen Sanders DPM of San Francisco, CA for helping me organize this article.