In regard to specific brands of shoes that simulate barefoot running, Jenny Sanders, DPM, says the Nike Free shoes provide a soft, non-supportive cloth upper with a wide, cushioned midsole and deep grooves to enhance flexibility.
However, the few patients she has that use barefoot running shoes prefer the Vibram Five Fingers shoes as they believe these shoes “simulate the true feel and biomechanics of barefoot running shoes.”
“Nike Free and Newton Running seem to be losing ground in the battle of barefoot running shoes,” notes Dr. Sanders.
Doug Richie, Jr., DPM, FACFAS, FACFAOM, says he has a few cases of non-runners who benefitted from the Nike Free, “only in terms of improved shoe fit over severe deformities of the toes.
“The non-confining, stretch upper of this shoe is definitely an advantage for individuals with toe deformities and bunions where conventional shoe fit has failed.”
Dr. Richie says some athletes may receive benefits from using minimalist shoes but only if they use these shoes “intermittently as a training tool.”
Dr. Sanders concurs.
“Based on most of the patient pathology I see coming through the door, few would benefit from this as a primary treatment,” emphasizes Dr. Sanders. “In fact, I have taken quite a few runners out of these styles of shoes because they caused injury.”
Dr. Richie says he would definitely caution against using the minimalist shoes for any patient with a previous history of plantar fasciitis, stress fracture, Achilles tendinopathy or calf muscle injury.
In addition to the introduction of more barefoot running shoes, Dr. Sanders says the recently published book, Born To Run, by ultra runner Christopher McDougall has fueled the debate over the merits of barefoot running. While the book reportedly questions running shoe companies, orthotics, podiatrists and sports medicine specialists, Dr. Sanders appreciates the book’s historical perspective on barefoot running and ultra running.
“This book will definitely shake up the podiatry community but I do not necessarily think that is a bad thing,” says Dr. Sanders. “I also think it will stimulate conversation and better scientific research into the question, ‘Is there an optimal running form and is it the same for everyone and every foot type?’”