Barefoot running has captured a dedicated following. Advocates claim it strengthens your tendons and ligaments, reduces your chance of injury, and all while helping you to develop a more natural way of walking and running. Opponents say it increases bone injury, pain, inflammation, and risk of further serious injury.
So who’s right? What should you do?
If you run barefoot, or use the “barefoot” minimalist shoes, should you stop immediately? Or, should you run without any concern?
Let’s take a look at some sources to see what they say:
One New York Times Article Says to Exercise Caution
In this particular study, Dr. Sarah Ridge examined 36 experienced male and female runners. Up to the study, they ran 15-30 miles per week.
Half of the group was asked to run the same mileage as always with the same running shoes. The others got Vibram Five Fingers barefoot-style shoes and were asked to add some barefoot running in their normal regimen.
The runners wearing those barefoot-style shoes had no evidence of leg injuries or tissue injuries. However, half did show early signs of bone injuries. And two had stress fractures.
While injuries started to develop, the study was unable to conclude why. Other factors, like mileage, running form, weight, and other variables could have played larger roles in the injuries.
For now, Dr. Ridge recommends less than a mile per week at the start when you transition to barefoot style running shoes.
What Harvard Had to Say on the Issue
Clearly, earlier in history, humans ran comfortably without running shoes. Harvard’s test found that experienced barefoot runners don’t land on their heels. Instead, they land with the front or middle of their foot. These landings don’t generate the large impact that heel strikes do. Barefoot runners can run even on hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete without discomfort.
However, Harvard did qualify this statement by saying they do not have data on how people should run. They don’t know if some shoes lead to injuries. And, they still believe strong controlled studies are needed.
You can read their full opinion in detail here.
The Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association (JAPMA)
You can read the full story of an article at this journal here. The summary is that the literature does not support the claimed disadvantages of barefoot running. Many studies have found differences in gait. Anecdotal information says barefoot runners have fewer injuries and better performance.
For now, experts think it’s an acceptable method of training for athletes and coaches who take steps to minimize the risks of barefoot running.
At this point in time, there’s no definitive proof on this issue. However, it does seem clear that you do need to exercise caution if you’re thinking about becoming a barefoot runner.