Barefoot Running

Having recently run the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay again I thought I would present a running post. 

There is a relatively new trend in running called barefoot running.  This trend is becoming so popular that even the shoe companies are getting in on it and marketing their own versions. Vibram 5 finger, Nike Free, Merrell Barefoot, Sockwa, etc…

No one incident can be credited with the genesis of this new trend. It has come in like a fad, person by person, but studies have been published indicating different footstrike patterns and possible injuries that modern shoes may cause.  The modern running shoe only really began in the 1970s.  As a result the new up and coming generation is the first ever to have been raised entirely with these new shoes.  Science has not even had a full generation to determine the benefit or harm of these new technology shoes.  Despite the youth of the sport shoe those supporters of barefoot running have already begun to doubt. 

The premise behind barefoot running is that the intrinsic muscles, mechanoreceptors, ligaments and joints are all designed to move, receive and report stimuli.  Just as we have found with our spine, too much support or rigidity is a bad thing.  Our sports shoes limit that motion and stimuli in order to support our feet rather than just protect us from that thorn or sharp rock.

Let’s face it shoes were originally created to protect our feet from the cuts scrapes and just general discomfort of traversing terrain that was not comfortable.  With that in mind unless you run on a soft, debris free, manufactured surface I recommend wearing shoes of some kind to protect your feet.  From a health care point of view, running barefoot can lead to injuries, running with shoes can lead to other injuries, and too rapid a transition between the two can lead to possibly more severe injuries. 

Without settled science, as a chiropractor my recommendation at this time is to protect your feet.  Some people need more support than others.  Run in what you feel comfortable and if you feel the need to change ,do so gradually start by walking in minimal shoes for a few weeks then try running for a few minutes a day in the new shoe.  I don’t recommend barefoot, but many of the “barefoot” shoes do provide protection without supporting your foot.  Give your feet a workout, but be safe about it.


4 thoughts on “Barefoot Running

  1. Pingback: Barefoot Running and Chiropractic | Ribley Chiropractic

  2. Chris ten Den

    Where is the scientific evidence that running barefoot can lead to injuries?

    Wearing shoes can lead to injuries. Wearing weights for walking can lead to injuries. Holding a piece of paper can lead to injuries.

    The rest of the article is okay. This blanket statement however should NOT be taken lightly.

    1. cmnacnud Post author

      There are the obvious cuts and scrapes on the feet that do not require scientific evidence in the form of a published work. Because this is a relatively new style of running to our modern world research is only beginning. It is starting with news articles reporting the fad and some of the cases of injuries, and more recently some introductory research was published in running times. I’m glad you approve of the rest of the article, the biggest point I hope people get from it is that you need to make sure you are careful in how you jump into fad styles. Barefoot running may indeed be the best thing for us as a species, but we’ve developed a dependency on shoes, and breaking out of that may take some getting used to. Be careful when trying out new things, and take care of your self.

  3. Dr James Stoxen DC

    Barefoot running is not new and it is not a fad. Running shoes have been around for 40 years at the most. Barefoot running has been around for 5000 years. Running with shoes is new and it should be a fad. When you evaluate any exercise program you must consider established principles of adaptation, engineering and physics first, then consider how the scientific studies weigh in. We forget that the scientific community has already established research related to two objects colliding and we have established research on what happens when you use a man made device to alter or bind a joint or group of joints during exercise.

    Few doctors have seen a “natural” foot unless they work with infants yet if they see an 18 year old who has no bunions or obvious abnormalities they say they have a “normal” foot. That 18 year old has had a device on that body part for 52,000 hours prior to the examination. That is 8 hours a day, 365 days a year for 18 years. Who knows what the foot would look like if they had not had the device on their foot for that long. We all know that when you take any binding or movement altering device off our body and perform exercise especially impacts of 3-5x bodyweight on a single bare foot just after taking off the supportive binding device for the first time you are bound to have injury.

    I have been running barefoot for 2 years and at age 50 have reclaimed the ability to do something I could do easily as a youth. Lets be logical and say that if we could run barefoot all day long as a youth and we cannot do it now without a supportive device that is the first “used to do” or the first sign of aging.

    The next thing you used to do is used to be able to walk without pain without a supportive orthotic then orthopedic shoe then cane then walker then wheel chair then we are bedridden.

    What we do is look at something we cannot do or are afraid of doing and convince ourselves that it has to be bad for us or lets find or develop some research that says its bad or dangerous and rally behind that? What should be done is that barefoot running should be the standard and shod running should be studied to see if it is healthy.

    When you say shod is healthier than barefoot what will you set as the gold standard for what you consider shod running?

    Will it include the running shoes with the toe lift that reverse the arch spring mechanism?

    Will it include the “Shocks” like shoes with the 1 inch heel that raises the heel to shorten the achilles tendon?

    Will it be the running shoe with the curved last on the runner with the straight foot that twists the foot with every landing?

    What you don’t consider is that with running shoes you have so many new variables to the landing of the foot to consider as the source of the abnormal movement or foot plant.

    Is it the toe lift? Is it the heel? Is it this that the other

    With barefoot running you only have these issues to consider and all are related to conditioning.

    Are all 33 joints of the foot and ankle and remainder of the kinematic chain and weight bearing joints released from spasms and restrictions to allow the force of the landing to be absorbed into the spring mechanism?

    Is the mass entering the human spring mechanism with a roll from supination to pronation within the safe range? (How can this be evaluated with precision during walking, jogging and running when it is covered with a shoe?

    Is the body relaxed during landing to allow the forces of the impacts to be absorbed comfortably during impact?

    Is the second toe of the foot pointing towards the direction they are running or not?

    Can the suspension system muscles or the landing muscles of the foot and lower limb conditioned and strong enough to absorb the forces of the landings and for how many landings (Fatigue weakens the ability of the body to safely absorb the forces of the impacts)

    its obvious that it is easier to effectively evaluate the training of an athlete who is barefoot running rather than one that has the added variables of a shoe that alters the natural foot plant.

    For long term health of the human body considering the established principles of adaptation, physics and engineering barefoot running and movement is natural and normal.

    If you would like to read a book about how to effectively transform a shod runner into a barefoot runner read Anthony Fields book, How I Got My Wiggle Back, published by Wiley Publishing and HarperCollins Publishing

    Feel free to visit my site and thank you for the opportunity to chime in on your very nice web site 🙂 Bravo to you for developing some pretty nice content for your patients You should be very proud.

    Dr James Stoxen DC


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