Barefoot running, or running without any shoes, has become increasingly popular in recent years. However, there is great controversy regarding the health benefits or risks involved with this practice of barefoot running.
At one point in the past, people did not normally wear shoes. As a result, barefoot running was very common and essentially the only option. Nonetheless, with the development of shoes, amateur runners and athletes alike have begun to wear shoes when running.
In normal running, the lateral edge of the forefoot strikes the ground with the most force. This refers to the outer edge of your foot toward the front. However, while wearing shoes, which often have padding, this force is transferred more toward the heel and rearfoot.
Possible Benefit #1 – Barefoot running may reduce risk of chronic injuries, especially repetitive stress injuries.
Because shoes transfer the force to the heel, there is much more repetitive heel striking when running in shoes. Scientific studies (such as Kerrigan et al., 2009) show that running in shoes increases stress on the knee joints up to 38%. However, it is unclear whether this increased stress indeed leads to chronic injuries. Moreover, running barefoot is tied to significantly lower levels of ankle and lower leg injuries in developing countries. Therefore, while these health claims of barefoot running are supported by some research, these generalizations are neither conclusive nor widely accepted.
Possible Benefit #2 – Barefoot running may alleviate chronic injuries.
Many runners have switched to barefoot running for relief from chronic injuries. These proponents of barefoot running claim that it is illogical to wear running shoes and force your body to undergo an unnatural process. The foot’s natural arch is designed to absorb the force of landing and turn this into forward motion. When runners wear shoes, this force is instead transferred through the heel to the knees and hips, exacerbating other chronic ailments. According to Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, barefoot running versus running in shoes significantly alters the foot strike cycle.
While barefoot running is indeed popular, most sports medicine organizations do not recommend it. In fact, they go further, recommending runners pay particular attention to foot type when choosing the appropriate shoe. Similarly, the American Podiatric Medical Association agrees that there is not enough research on the benefits of barefoot running for a definitive answer.
Kerrigan DC, Franz JR, Keenan GS, Dicharry J, Della Croce U, Wilder RP. “The effect of running shoes on lower extremity joint torques.” PM&R.
Doheny, Kathleen, “Running Shoes: Hazardous to Your Joints?” WebMD.
Warburton, Michael. “Barefoot Running.” Sports Science.
Hersher, Rebecca. “Study Finds Barefoot Runners Have Less Foot Stress Than Shod Ones.” PhysOrg.com.
American Podiatric Medical Association. “APMA Position Statement on Barefoot Running.”