Should I run barefoot to reduce injury? Others are

More people are running barefoot. (credit: JohnKochmanski, flickr.com)

There’s been a lot of hype recently about running naturally, the way the human body did when we were trying to catch prey (or, more likely, to keep from becoming prey).

The DePaul graduate students I help the Huffington Post’s Craig Kanalley teach have inspired me to look more deeply at a topic that’s always interested me: barefoot running.

(They’re taking a midterm right now, in which they’re writing blog posts on deadline about niche journalism on Twitter. I’ve decided to write my own post, even though I’m not writing about a breaking news story; that I do everyday.)

Just today an article called, “Barefoot running takes off,” was published in the Highlands Ranch Herald, a community newspaper in Colorado. It drew me in with its lead: a man gave up running in his 40s because of chronic pain.

(Sounds familiar.)

That same man, now in his 70s, is able to run again, he says, because he ditched his shoes.

But just because he jumped off the proverbial bridge, it doesn’t mean I should, too. Does it?

The facts outlined by the article:

“The human foot contains 26 bones (one-quarter of the bones in the body are in the feet) 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. Proponents of barefoot running say it helps strengthen and realign those muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments, thereby reducing injuries. Cushy running shoes make feet weak and limit their natural movement, they say.

“Running barefoot also eliminates heel-striking, which some say is a cause of injuries, in favor of landing on the ball of the foot.”

Scientific American recently published an article that touted the benefits of running barefoot based on research that showed how different a “natural” runner’s strike is compared with those who lace up.

Countless other publications and blogs have come to the same conclusion.

So… is it good for you or not?

I’m particularly interested because I’ve had not one (plantar fasciitis), not two (stress fracture), not three (another stress fracture), but more than four foot (bursitis) injuries in the last three years. You could argue here, that maybe running isn’t for me (and to that end, I’ve taken up swimming just in case), but this new fad sure does make me wonder: How would my feet do without shoes?

Some people seem to like it, others prefer the Vibram five fingers shoes:

  1. Nicolas Alpi
    spyou Went for a complete barefoot running session in Victoria Park. No pain in shins anymore and people looking at me like if I was crazy :D
  2. Thomas Beckett
    tbeckett @LemonadeSunset I won’t run in anything but my #fivefingers any more. Except barefoot.
  3. Julia Furtado-Lavoie
    WooHooFactor Listening to the trend in Barefoot running. No opinion. Like my sneakers so won’t be the trailblazer on this one.

I’m not sure that running barefoot would be good for me.

Apparently it’s supposed to support your heel and arches more and allow you to strike with your forefoot. I have forefoot issues — my toes hyper-extend and pull back the fatty tissue on the ball of my foot that protects the bones — that leave my foot bones exposed to a hell of a pounding.

Regardless, I’ll ask the doctor when I see him next week — and hopefully, when I get the all-clear to hit the pavement again.

In the mean time, what do you think about running barefoot? Have you tried it? Do you think it’s awesome? Crazy? Let me know.

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6 Comments

Filed under Barefoot running, Foot bursitis, Injuries, Plantar fasciitis, Shoes, Stress fracture, Vibram five fingers running shoes

6 responses to “Should I run barefoot to reduce injury? Others are

  1. Pingback: Hello doc, goodbye cast! What now? « f my injury [dot] com

  2. kris

    Hi Kristin,
    I’ve read about barefoot running before (fascinating, yes!). As little kids, my sisters and cousins went barefoot as much as possible in the summertime… heck, even on gravel, mostly on grass (and well, it didn’t bother us to sleep on the floor in our sleeping bags, either). Now… um, not a chance.

    I just can’t imagine running on pavement (cement or asphalt) barefoot, though. Our ancestors had nice grassy plains and whatnot. I probably would have been prey by now, anyway.. people didn’t live nearly as long. No joint replacements, for sure.

    I’ve been considering a mini-trampoline. Doing something like that barefoot might work.. hmmmm…

    Give us an update…

  3. I think you should try minimalist shoes or Vibrams. I have just started running “barefoot”, and I love my Vibram Sprints – they’re like a glove for my foot, so they protect my feet from the rough surfaces. Feel free to email me if you have any questions – there are tons of websites out there with good info.!

    • Thanks for the info!
      Also — I was able to find all kinds of info supporting barefoot running. Since you’re for it, I’m sure you know of people/articles who aren’t so hot for it. Can you please share a link or two with me? I just like to get both sides!!!

  4. Cool post, Kirsten! How fun to do it in conjunction with the class.

    I think it’s insane, personally, to run bare foot. What if there is something in the road that is potentially dangerous/painful? I’m not sure I could ever do it.

    But the arguments FOR doing it are interesting, especially the science you outline in that blockquote. Still, not for me.

    Hopefully you do get the all clear from the Doc.

    • Thanks — I thought so :)

      It does sound scary. And the obstacles in the road are indeed a fact of the barefoot runner’s life. (Apparently, they build up quite a callus!)

      But I’m willing to try anything to make my beloved sport un-dead to me. We’ll see, though. If the doctor says no, Mama ain’t doin’ it!