Point-Counterpoint: Barefoot Running: Is It Here To Stay Or Just A Passing Fad?
- Volume 24 - Issue 4 - April 2011
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What The Research Reveals About Differences In Proprioceptive Ability And Plantar Musculature Strength
Increased economy. Running without shoes may result in a reduced energy expenditure of approximately 4.7 percent because of the reduced mass that must accelerate and decelerate during running.17 Likewise, running with a shoe requires energy to deform the shoe.
Also bear in mind that some stored energy within the foot is lost to cushioning of the shoe. In other words, the shoe material absorbs some of the “spring in step.” When factoring out the reduced mass effect, some investigators have even considered that the actual changes in gait encouraged by the barefoot condition may result in reduced energy expenditure.18,19
Increased proprioceptive ability. Many studies have demonstrated that an unshod foot has a much better feel for the supporting surface (position sense), which allows for an enhanced ability to adjust and readjust to the variations in terrain.7-9,16
Increased strength of plantar musculature. Advocates of barefoot running reason that an unencumbered foot encourages a much higher utilization of the plantar intrinsics, which they believe atrophy when confined in a highly controlling and supportive shoe. In their study of children, Rao and Joseph demonstrated that unshod runners have better arch development and attribute it to stronger plantar intrinsics.20 Bruggemann and colleagues found an increase in the size and strength of plantar intrinsics in a test group that did warm-ups in Free (Nike) minimalist shoes.21
Improved performance. Many of those touting the benefits of barefoot running believe that the changes in gait and energy usage in barefoot runners result in a smoother and more efficient gait. This may in turn lead to a more natural running style and better use of the musculature mechanically for an ultimately superior performance.
Do Barefoot Runners Have Fewer Deformities And Injuries?
Decreased risk of foot deformities. Studies demonstrate that children who go barefoot have better arch structure.20,22 Upon determining that shoe gear appears to constrain the natural motion of the foot, several investigators suggested this may lead to deformities.23-25
Reduced injuries. If a barefoot runner has better proprioception through a more direct coupling to the ground, it stands to reason that the barefoot runner would be far less likely to suffer injuries related to balance and terrain irregularities (e.g., lateral ankle sprains). Indeed, several investigators have demonstrated that unshod athletes had significantly better lateral stability and ability to discriminate ankle inversion movement.26,27
If the high rates of plantar fasciitis/fasciosis are due to constrained and resultantly weak plantar intrinsics due to wearing shoes, as barefoot advocates believe, then barefoot running should reduce or eliminate plantar fasciitis/fasciosis.
For years, many clinicians and investigators believed that the high impact forces in running are responsible for numerous running-related injuries such as medial tibial stress syndrome, osteoarthritis of the knee, low back pathology, etc.28 The aforementioned gait changes as well as improved proprioception that allows for a finer kinesthetic tuning (position sense) to the running surface through adjustments to impact should reduce impact forces and result in theoretically fewer injuries.10 Edwards and co-workers suggested that the shorter strides in the barefoot runner may lead to a reduced likelihood of stress fractures.29
A number of studies seem to support the aforementioned advantages of barefoot running. However, for the most part, those studies look at the barefoot condition and not barefoot running per se.