I am often asked what I think about barefoot running, a term that refers to either running barefoot or in “barefoot five-finger running shoes”, that mimic the experience of running with naked feet. The controversy with barefoot running is the issue of whether or not it increases or decreases the risk of injury.
Enthusiastic athletes are evangelical in their praise of barefoot running, claiming that the practice has cured them of running-related injuries. Many exercise scientists, citing numerous research studies, beg to differ; others support the new and popular practice. I am grateful for a recent article of unbiased, evidence-based perspectives that informed me enough to be able to respond intelligently to queries posed to me.
Here’s the gist of what I learned: Shoes alter how we move. In shoes, foot stride is longer; more force is put on the heel than the rest of the foot. The force of that repeated pounding travels upward through the bones, making the runner susceptible to stress fractures and other skeletal injuries.
Barefoot running – done correctly (“correctly” is the operative word here) – shifts the impact of landing towards the forefoot, away from the heel. Impact is lighter. The force moves through the muscles and soft tissue, rather than the bones. That lays the individual open to an increased likelihood of muscle strain and/or tendinitis.
The above information is useful if you give reflexology to runners. Helping athletes understand the source of foot injuries and pain may be as simple as looking at what they wear (or don’t wear) on their feet, as much as how they run and on what surface.
The evidence for or against barefoot running does not seem to be definitive enough to make bold, blanket recommendations to runners – at least not for me. The article provides a lot of good information and links to even more, so, if you work with runners, you may wish to read it yourself. Or you might steer your curious clients towards the article and let them reach their own conclusion.