Barefoot Running Part 2: Is It Right For Everyone?

Barefoot Running Part 2: Is It Right For Everyone?

In Part 1 of this topic, we discussed the potential benefits that can be seen with barefoot running.
Improved running mechanics can provide to improved running economy, decreased impact forces and
decreased musculoskeletal stress. Furthermore, improvements in proprioception can result in more
efficient muscle activation and reduced injury rates.

Although there are many benefits associated with barefoot running, there are some potential problems
that may arise when implementing this technique. These drawbacks can be placed into two main
categories: 1. Injury from inadequate foot protection, and 2. Injury from repetitive stress.

1. Injury from inadequate foot protection

When truly running barefoot, there is no protection between your foot and the surface you are running
on. Since we wear shoes a majority of the time, the skin on our feet is thin and sensitive. Glass, nails or
other debris can puncture the skin or cause injury to the unprotected foot. Individuals with peripheral
neuropathy or sensation loss of their feet should be particularly cautious of this concept.

2. Injury from repetitive stress

When adopting the new running form associated with barefoot running, your muscles and bones are
stressed in different ways. Unless you have run barefoot from birth, you likely have underdeveloped
foot and lower extremity muscles to prepare you for this transition. Although this technique allows
for less stress on your joints from decreased impact forces, there is more stress distributed through
certain muscles and bones. The increased demand on the calf muscles can lead to overuse injury or
tendinopathy to the achilles tendon. Similarly, the increased contact force through the metatarsals of
the foot can lead to overuse injury or stress fractures.

When I first began to adopt the barefoot running technique, I decided to wear the Vibram Fiveingers.
Having no cushioning or support, this was the next best thing to actually running barefoot. I began to
increase my mileage in preparation for a half marathon. My feet became very sore when I ran, likely
from a metatarsal (long bones of the foot) stress fracture. Shortly thereafter, while running in a 5K, I
suffered a complete fracture of my second metatarsal.

Though I had a bad experience when attempting barefoot running, I am still a strong believer and
proponent of the concept. After a short recover period and with a little modification, I continue to
run successfully with this technique. Not only am I pain and injury free, but have seen significant
improvements in my running times as well. With a little patience and proper considerations, I feel that
most people can safely adopt this technique. Keep an eye out for part 3 where we will discuss practical
guidelines for safe and effective transition into barefoot running.

Contributed by Dr. Shaun Vollmer


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