Barefoot Running vs Running in Shoes

Is running barefoot better than running in shoes? The answer is yes.

There are some precautions runners must take if they want to avoid injury when ditching their running shoes. We developed shoes for a reason, but the foot is one of the most marvelously designed pieces of our anatomy. When we put shoes on, we prevent some of that natural working mechanism.

As a primary benefit, shoes protect your feet on certain surfaces, and that is a better gain than any potential loss you might have in the health of your foot. Some shoes, though, are just a bad idea from the beginning, and trying to run in them will likely end in disaster.

Proper running mechanics is the most important part of running, whether you run barefoot or in shoes. Most children start with good running mechanics, but once we put young people in shoes, it changes the mechanics in such a way that by the time they’re adults, they may no longer demonstrate proper mechanics. Then, we must work to get those back.


Benefits of Barefoot Running


Running barefoot changes how we run in a beneficial way. Most people who run heel strike, meaning the heel hits the ground first. That is not how our foot naturally functions. Shoes are the only reason any of us can heel strike. You cannot heel strike when barefoot, because it hurts.

When we run barefoot, we land on the fore-foot or mid-foot, which allows the force to distribute into the foot, along the bottom and up our Achilles tendon. That’s where we store potential energy, and then, as we run, that energy gets returned again. Your foot is a well-designed shock absorber. When we heel strike we lose that function and develop poor mechanics.

Shoes or the lack of proper running shoes can cause health issues down the road, but not wearing shoes when running can also cause painful problems if not approached with awareness.


Cons of Running Barefoot


Many people think you can’t run barefoot on a hard surface. Running barefoot on a surface like cement and concrete is actually easy because it’s so smooth.  However, stepping on glass or something harmful does put your feet at risk when running on a paved trail or road.

Experienced runners may want to try something like Vibram Five Fingers or some other kind of barefoot shoes when transitioning from running in shoes to barefoot running to protect the skin and provide some protection. Keep in mind: Your foot won’t be used to running this way, so while your heart, lungs and legs are all set to run 10 miles, your foot is not.

When you change the distribution of forces that go through your foot, you can greatly increase your risk for stress fractures. That is something we commonly see when people start to change their running mechanics or they begin true barefoot running. Runners need to be aware of that risk and realize you must bring your training along gradually. It can take six months to a year or more to build up the requisite bone density and change how your foot normally distributes forces.


Don’t Let Injuries Deter Your Exercise Goals


Getting exercise in some form remains the most important message. If you start to develop pain or problems because of that training, we can help you deal with those. Just always remember, our bodies are designed to move and exercise plays a big role in our overall health.

I’ve always loved sports and can help you work on an individualized exercise plan that will best serve your health and your body. If you have problems associated with running or any questions, please reach out and contact me, Richard Schuster, at Schuster Family Medicine and Osteopathic Care. If you want to view more articles, please click here. 

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