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Barefoot Running, Part 3

This week, we will conclude our investigation into Barefoot Running and Barefoot Running shoes. Hopefully, our conclusions will help you make an informed decision about this interesting runner’s trend.


Barefoot Running Shoes:

While many purists of the barefoot running trend will insist on remaining unshod, there are those that recognize a need for “adaptive assistance” in the modern environment in which we live. Thus was born the barefoot running shoe.

True to the spirit of barefoot running, barefoot running shoes are lighter, lower to the ground, and less cushioned than conventional running shoes. They're designed to emulate most of the desirable aspects of barefoot running while still providing some protection for the feet. The latest design trend of barefoot running shoes look more like gloves than shoes. In fact; they are evenn referred to as "five toe" shoes.



We have gone over a brief historical perspective on the wearing of shoes. We have probed both the positives and negatives of barefoot running, and described the typical “barefoot running shoe”. Let us now summarize the lesson and try to draw a conclusion.


Potential Benefits of Barefoot Running: 

These are the “Pros” of Barefoot Running in a nutshell:

  • Barefoot runners learn to land on the forefoot rather than the heel. Research shows that Landing on the heel isn't the most effective natural running stride because it causes unnecessary braking on every stride. The heel strike during running developed because of excessive padding of running shoes, which is as unnatural as the lifted heel itself. Landing on the forefoot allows the arches to act as natural shock absorbers. The most efficient runners land on the mid-foot and keep their strides smooth and fluid.
  • Balance and proprioception improvement. The smaller muscles in the feet, ankles, legs, and hips that are responsible for balance and coordination will be put to more optimal use when barefoot.
  • Running unshod helps one stay connected and grounded to the environment. A person will naturally begin to spread their toes and expand the foot until it becomes a more solid and connected base that supports all movements. 
  • The muscles, tendons and ligaments of the foot may; in fact, strengthen and allow the runner to develop a more natural gait.
  • Without the heel lift found in most shoes, the Achilles tendon and calf muscle will naturally stretch and strengthen, which may reduce injuries such as calf strains or Achilles tendinitis.


Potential Negatives of Barefoot Running:

These are the “Cons” of Barefoot Running:

  • Because most people are unused to going barefoot, the bottom (plantar surface) of the foot is normally soft and tender. Eschewing a stiff-soled shoe may initially cause plantar pain - or in some cases - increase the risk of plantar fasciitis.
  • Blisters. Almost everyone who switches to barefoot or a minimal shoe or starts going shoeless develop blisters for the first few weeks until calluses are formed.
  • Going barefoot can be a shock to the foot and require a long time to adapt. We are put in shoes as children and adapt to them our whole lives; logically, reversing this adaptation will also take some time.
  • Going without accustomed footwear may actually lead to injuries such as Achilles tendonitis or calf strain because most runners are not used to going barefoot. When the conventional heel lift is removed from the shoes, the unshod or a minimalist shoe will be a shock to the feet and thus muscles will initially feel overworked.
  • If it “ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. People who have no existing issues or pain do not necessarily need to change their workout habits and routines.
  • Shoes protect the feet from ground debris such as glass, nails, rocks, and thorns. Also, going barefoot offers no insulation in cold weather and zero protection from frostbite in ice and snow.


Final Conclusions

To run shod or unshod? That is the question. For runners; the answer is - inconclusive. It simply adds up to personal choice. If one chooses to go barefoot – or wear the shoe gloves - it is best to start slow and be careful.

If you want to experiment with barefoot running shoes, go ahead, but ease into it. Make sure to find a shoe that's appropriate for your foot, and choose softer and more-forgiving running surfaces at first, such as a cushioned track. Several types of barefoot-inspired shoes are available. Like any other piece of professional equipment, if you want to go with the high-tech running shoes, it is best to get a professional fitting. However; if you're happy with your current running shoes, there's no need to change.

It is also important to talk to a sports medicine specialist or foot doctor before beginning barefoot running, particularly if you have a history of running injuries or foot problems.

If you feel it’s time to get into barefoot running, you might want to start with barefoot running shoes. If you are experiencing pain in your feet, legs or shins from running, don’t wait for your family physician; visit Excel Rehabilitation Services on Burnside Ave. in Gonzales, Louisiana. You will receive personalized care from an experienced, professional physical therapist!


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