Tackling The 10 Myths Of Barefoot Running
This author investigates common misconceptions about barefoot running and expounds on the positive effects of minimalist footwear.
Barefoot running, minimalist running and natural running are all terms that describe running in a manner that allows our foot to function the way it was designed (or has evolved). This happens through the use of little or no shoe at all. Many runners suffering from chronic injuries are adopting this way of running and are experiencing relief of symptoms to find themselves running with enjoyment and a more relaxing form.
I too have been cured of a running injury, which I suffered from for over eight years after transitioning my gait to that of a “barefoot” runner. Without further ado, here are the 10 myths of barefoot running.
Barefoot running leads to stress fractures. Without a doubt, the most common concern with barefoot or minimalist running is the development of a stress fracture. While there have been documented cases of this in the literature, stress fractures occur as a result of a change in activity without gradual adaptation and are not directly related to the shoegear or lack thereof.1 We actually should see a decrease in the likelihood of stress fracture given the change in stride and cadence that one acquires while running barefoot.2
Stress fractures occur secondary to overuse without the body having adapted adequately as proven by Wolff's Law.3 In fact, if we adhere to Wolff's law in theory, we should see weaker bone trabecular patterns on those wearing cushioned running shoes due to decreased intrinsic muscle strength, resulting in a proportional decrease in the force acting on the respective bone.4
I have flat feet and I need support. Lees and Klemerman have demonstrated that there is no correlation between foot type and running injuries, specifically with a pes planus deformity.5 During barefoot running, we avoid heel striking and land more on our forefoot or midfoot. Once the forefoot strikes the ground, pronation of the entire foot begins (not isolated pronation of the subtalar joint) and continues until the point where the heel touches the ground. Arch height becomes irrelevant as does the commonly described concept of pronation with the heel striking the ground first. With a forefoot/midfoot strike, pronation is very beneficial and helps to absorb shock.
I weigh too much. While this is a common excuse to not run, being overweight is not reason enough not to run barefoot or in a minimalist shoe. In 2010, Leiberman and co-workers were able to demonstrate that habitually unshod runners were able to generate smaller collision forces than shod heel strikers.6 In other words, by forefoot striking, we decrease the force that transmits through the lower extremity, thereby reducing torque forces to the ankle, knee and hip joints.7 Clearly, we can see that if people weigh 250 lbs, they would be placing more force through their joints by heel striking then by landing on their forefoot.
Would Bad Knees Inhibit Barefoot Running?
I have bad knees. Osteoarthritis of the knee is a common concern among many runners, especially older individuals who have run the majority of their lives. There are many theories as to why running is bad or even good for your knees. So many in fact that elliptical machines were invented to be used as a form of exercise similar to running without causing excess pressure to the joints.8 However, these elliptical machines do not reproduce anatomical motions and an in vivo force analysis reveals there is less force with walking than with an elliptical trainer.9-11