Armstrong Podiatry & Sports Health's Blog

Information that promotes wellness

My take on “barefoot running”

Without a doubt, the barefoot running craze has been the biggest thing in the running community since the big running boon in the 1970s that launched the juggernaut of Nike shoes.  It is ironic that the two opposed philosophies have played such a large role in culture of running in North America.  The running shoe is manufactured to take pressure off the Achilles tendon and promote a heel-to-toe running style which will prevent injuries.  Barefoot running promotes a midfoot running style that will strengthen the feet and prevent long term injuries.



I personally don’t think that barefoot running craze will last long.  Why? Because the ability to run barefoot is only able to be tolerated by certain people.  In other words, not everyone can do it and not get hurt!  Two reasons I believe this to be true: 1) The long lasting effect of shoegear on the feet and; 2) the biomechanics of the feet.

I do believe there is an inherent weakness in “civilized” society in our feet, due to our long-term usage of shoegear.  Instead of using our feet to land and propel off the ground, we have wedges, cushions and lifts in our shoes that do the work for us.  And if you don’t use something, you lose it.  The small muscles of the feet do get weak and are eventually unable to perform its desired function.  So, it could take months or more likely years of barefoot walking (never mind running) in order for the bones and muscles to get “strong” again.  You have had a lifetime of muscle weakness and disuse.  How does anyone  expect to be able to run barefoot frequently without at least  half a lifetime of training and strength training these forgotten muscles?

Shoe parts (cushions, wedges, etc.)

In my practice, I have only had a handful of barefoot runners and I noticed one commonality between them.  Upon conversing with other fellow podiatrists, they have come to the same conclusion as I have:  Runners that are drawn to run barefoot usually have high arches!  Why is that the case?  High arched individuals usually have extremely tight gastrocnemius-soleus complexes (Achilles tendons), which means placing their foot flat on the ground is a highly stressful activity.  When high arched individuals walk, they place little pressure on the heel initially, rather they quickly shift their weight more towards the ball of the feet.  So anything that forces these individuals to make initial heel contact would be deemed uncomfortable (read: running shoes).  In other words, barefoot running draws people with high arches, because it promotes a more personal comfort with running.

An extreme example of high arched foot

Achilles tendon at work

 I believe an increase in awareness of the feet is definitely a good thing, and barefoot running can promote that.  But like any part of a training programme, it must be used wisely with a slow increase in volume.

Happiness and good health!

September 15, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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