A number of runners hit the streets without their shoes believing that wearing shoes hinders their natural stride, causing pain and injuries. There is much debate and research on the pros and cons of barefoot running. So, is this trend right for you?
Research has shown that barefoot running shortens the stride length with more emphasis on forefoot strike than heel strike. This may provide some advantage in terms of natural shock absorption at the knee while reducing injuries and improving performance. However, according to Sharp Rees-Stealy podiatrist Dr. Daniel Wendt, you may not want to ditch your running shoes just yet.
The barefoot running trend was prompted by publication of the book Born to Run, written about the Tarahumara, a Mexican tribe of ultra-runners who run without shoes, yet remain healthy and injury-free. The message portrayed in the book is that modern society weakened the human foot by over-supporting it.
“Although I understand this thinking, I think it’s impractical to suggest that the benefits of barefoot running can apply to modern society,” says Dr. Wendt. “Most of us have grown up wearing shoes and have different body mass composition compared to the Tarahumara. We also spend most of our time on hard surfaces versus dirt.” The idea of barefoot running may be beneficial for a select few under proper supervision.
A number of companies embraced the trend by making minimalistic running shoes, says Wendt. Shoes were designed to mimic barefooted running. “I have seen more cases of plantar fasciitis and stress fractures caused by wearing these types of shoes,” says Dr. Wendt. “People accepted these shoes because they were light. However, while there is some merit to barefoot running, these shoes were never intended to be worn around all day by the average person.”
“In this day and age, the practice of barefoot running on the roads is not a good idea,” says Wendt. “If it were beneficial, you would see the best runners in the world adopting the trend, and that hasn’t happened.”
The hard surfaces we run on, and debris such as glass, rocks and nails, make this activity potentially hazardous. Dr. Wendt recommends a new class of shoes referred to as maximalist shoes, which are equally light but supportive at the same time.