I am sure you’ve heard of the up and coming subculture of runners going shoeless and embracing barefoot running or at least saw the shoes that looks like a pair of toe socks. Advocates claim that barefoot running leads to improvement in foot biomechanics and a reduction of injury risk. While studies have found that running becomes more efficient by 4% while running barefooted.
The Debate Over Running Barefoot
Many experts agree with shoeless runners that wearing shoes may cause the small muscles in our feet to weaken as well as causing the tendons, ligaments and natural arches to cease doing their jobs. It is believed that the consequence of supportive shoe inserts, orthotics and extra cushion is poor foot biomechanics and an increased risk of foot, leg and knee injuries.
On the other hand, other experts argue that, with the right shoes, it can help to correct biomechanical problems and reduce injuries.
One can make an argument that if treating foot pain was so simple, more podiatrists would have recommended this simple solution. However, most podiatrists prescribe orthotics to relieve foot pain.
Although we can’t be sure about the medical benefits of running barefooted, here are some pros and cons that are often discussed amongst experts.
- Development of more natural gait and strengthening of the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the foot.
- Removal of heel lifts in most shoes helps the calf muscle and Achilles tendon to stretch and lengthen and may result in less injuries, such as Achilles tendinitis and calf pulls.
- It teaches runners to land on forefoot instead of the heel. Heel strike during running came about because of excessive padding in running shoes. Running on heels is essentially putting on the brakes in every stride. The most effective runners land on their midfoot and has a natural, light and smooth stride. Landing on forefoot allows arches to act as natural shock absorbers.
- Improvement in balance and proprioception – sensory information from muscles, ligaments and tendons. Without shoes, you exercise smaller muscles in your feet, legs, ankles and hips that a responsible for improved balance and coordination.
Sudden change to barefoot or minimal shoe running can cause shock to your feet. Such change requires gradual adaptation.
This isn’t the only concern:
- If it isn’t broken, why fix it?
If you have no issues or pain with your feet, there isn’t really a point to make the switch.
- Minimal foot protection
This is a no-brainer. Shoes protect your feet from sharp objects and insulate your feet from harsh environment such as frostbite from ice and snow.
- Increases likelihood of calf strain and Achilles Tendinitis
Having not used to going barefoot, wearing a minimalist shoe will result in shock to the foot. Initially, the muscles will feel overworked. For some individuals, this may even lead to the problems stated above when heel lifts are removed from their shoes.
- Plantar pain
It is the pain at the bottom of the feet (plantar surface), where it’s soft and tender for most people. Without stiff-soled shoes, it may cause pain initially to those who are susceptible and may lead to increased risk of plantar fasciitis.
- Lots of blisters
You will have to battle blisters for the first few weeks until the formation of calluses when u first make the switch.
- Strange looks
People will notice, and they will stare.
Barefoot and Minimal Running Shoes Grow in Popularity
This trend has spread like wildfire to shoe manufacturers. Large shoe makers are embracing semi-barefoot movement through the creation of minimalist shoes, although it sounds like an oxymoron, offers nothing more than a rubber sole for protection against the pavement and this is gaining market share quick.