Is Barefoot Running Still a Thing?
A few years back you may have noticed a running trend - people running without shoes or with shoes that had "toes." And you may have asked yourself, what is up with that? Or isn't that painful? Minimalist and barefoot running became popularized by the bestseller "Born to Run" a book about the return of the sport. After this book came out, physical therapists started seeing an uptick in foot injuries among novice runners. So what happened to barefoot running? Is it still a thing? The answer is sort of.
Three is some scientific evidence that barefoot or minimalist running is beneficial. But it is not for every foot. The basic theory is that running without shoe wear will allow the body to better adapt to the environment and improve its proprioception. This proprioception in turn allows the body to adjust to unstable surfaces, adapt to inclines, and improve the natural gait pattern to prevent injuries like ankle sprains or stress fractures. The idea of barefoot running was also born by looking at the biomechanics of the foot structure and what happens during running. The most optimal gait pattern is one in which the runner touches down on the midfoot, and not placing the heel on the ground. Hence, in a barefoot running, the runner will learn to not place the heel on the ground and will only put minimal weight on a smaller part of the foot. In theory it makes sense. But many runners do not have perfect biomechanics. In looking at a runner who does strike with the heel, we can see that in a normal shoe, the heel is quite cushioned. Therefore the runner hits the ground a bit sooner than if the heel was not a shoe. So when you eliminate the cushioned heel, and the runner still heel strikes, the runner is at risk for over using the gastroc (calf muscle) and causing Achilles tendon issues. If the runner learns to run on the midfoot, barefoot or minimalist running may be ok. However, in order to maintain this running pattern, the soleus (another calf muscle) must continuously fire and have much endurance. For example, the soleus helps with knee flexion and in a midfoot running pattern, the knee never extends. So if the runner has a weak soleus, they are at greater risk for fatigue and could get other injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures or bunions.
If you are interested in barefoot running and have only run in regular running shoes, it is best to contact a running coach or a physical therapist who works with runners. These professionals will be able to do a gait assessment to determine which shoe (or no shoe) is best for you.
For more information about running techniques, injury prevention and shoe wear recommendations, please visit us at www.saramikulsky.com or email us at sara.mikulsky@gmail..com