Barefoot running not all it\’s cracked up to be

Barefoot running is something that originated at the beginning of time when shoes had not yet been invented, but has recently become popular due to books and shoe companies coming up with shoes that mimic running barefoot.  So what\’s all the hype about and why are more and more people trying out this trend?  There are several benefits that shoe companies boast about when it comes to their minimalist footwear styles:

The benefits of minimalist footwear, so say the companies that make them:

1.  It\’s healthier and safe.  There has been scientific evidence to support that walking barefoot might actually be healthier and less detrimental to your feet than running with your typical running shoes.  The only problem with that is that a lot of the surfaces that we walk on have things such as needles, glass, rocks, etc. that could either cut or harm your feet.  Minimalist footwear allows you to mimic walking barefoot while preventing you from getting injured from all of the crazy things you can encounter on the ground wherever you may go.   Although this may be true if you\’ve walked barefoot your entire life, it\’s completely different if you have been using regular shoes and switch over.  Putting more stress on your feet and legs after years of regular shoes can only make you more prone to injuries.

****  ALWAYS be wary of companies that promote on the line ‘studies have shown’.  Unfortunately many companies take a small bit of truth and twist it into greater ideas that just are not true.  Two popular examples are the shape up shoes and the ab belt.  Shape ups were built on the premise that working out on an unstable surface makes you muscles work harder, so why not put that unstable surface on the bottom of the shoe?  Because the you are creating an environment that compromises safety but also that the body will become used to making it less of a challenge over time.  The ab belt that hooks electrodes up to the abdominals and forces them to contract was built on the study that if you have no muscle contraction applying stimulation that forces the muscle to contract will help the nerves to fire and help the muscle contract.  Once you have a contraction on your own this technology goes out the window, muscles must be loaded in order to have them increase.

2. It\’s lighter.  With all the extra padding on shoes comes extra weight that you have to drag along as you\’re running, whether it be in a race or an early morning workout.  With minimalist footwear, you just don\’t have as much weight weighing your foot down as you workout.

3.  It makes you stronger.  Having less cushioning around your foot forces not only the muscles in your foot, but also those muscles that go up into your leg to become more active to help align your foot the right way and take on some of the shock absorption that normal running footwear would take on.  At the same time this puts stresses on your legs that those who are accustomed to heavier shoes have pretty much never had to deal with and could cause injury.  If it\’s not broken, don\’t fix it- by the same token if the running shoes that you have been using work, why change them?

4.  It decreases the amount of force put through your foot.  When you run with your standard cushioned sneaker and your foot first contacts the ground it is usually with your heel bone or calcaneus.  When this happens a large amount of force is put through the foot.  Research has shown that if you run barefoot or with minimalist footwear, you actually end up landing on the ball of your foot or right around where the bones that connect to your toes are (called metatarsals).  This significantly decreases the amount of forces that are put through the foot which can ultimately reduce your risk for developing conditions such as stress fractures of the shin bone and heel pain (often referred to as plantar fascitis).  Although this is true, switching to minimalist footwear can lead to all kinds of other injuries.  It would be easier (and cheaper) to just alter the way you run by consciously making an effort to land on the ball of your foot instead of the heal with the shoes you already have.

When it comes to this type of footwear the risks outweigh the benefits.  Some say that they increase your performance, citing athletes as far back as Abebe Bikila from Ethiopia who won the gold medal barefoot in the Olympic marathon in 1960.  What you have to realize is that many of the cultures that compete barefoot perform most if not all of the activities in their daily lives barefoot.  They grow up putting the stresses of barefoot activities through their feet and are therefore more used to and more successful with it.  The environments they face are also very different from those that we face.

Bottom line:  Unless you\’ve been running around barefoot since you were born, it probably isn\’t a good idea to start running with minimalist footwear now.

Some of the problems that are commonly experienced by those that go \”barefoot\” include strain of the tendon of the calf muscle (Achilles tendonitis)  and general soreness in the ankle and foot muscles.  If you tried minimalist footwear and have experienced these and have gone back to your old footwear and the pain has not subsided within two weeks you might need to see a physical therapist.

Call Total Performance Physical Therapy today to schedule your appointment!

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