Barefoot Running and Minimalist Shoes: Pros and Cons

We hear a lot about barefoot running and minimalist footwear these days. They’ve become quite popular with people who want to get back to basics, the way our ancestors used to live. While this idea is understandable, it may not be the best thing for the modern foot. Had we grown up barefoot or in moccasins, as we had done for thousands of years, this would make perfect sense. However, since our feet have grown (literally) accustomed to shoes throughout our lives, going back to bare feet can be quite difficult. If you start out slowly and build your endurance, it can still be possible for some people. Others have damaged their feet beyond this capability.

Some articles have blamed footwear for running injuries and therefore praise the merits of going barefoot. However, this generalization does not apply to all shoes for all people. Whenever we use a tool (shoes, in this case), our body adjusts accordingly. The biggest problems we see are from shoes that are the wrong tool for the job. For example, wearing work boots for running or wearing the wrong running shoe can contribute to injury. Additionally, wearing poorly-made shoes or shoes with an improper fit (or a combination of both) can increase the problem.

So far, the scientific research is still out on whether running barefoot (or in minimalist shoes) holds any benefit over having well-fitted running shoes. In a New York Times article on the subject, Benno Nigg, a professor of biomechanics at the University of Calgary and a well-respected footwear researcher had this to say: “There is no direct evidence that running shoes cause injury or that barefoot running reduces injury.”*

However, a local podiatric physician and surgeon, Dr. John Mozena, has noticed an increase in patients that have sustained injuries from running barefoot or in minimalist shoes.  “He says that running barefoot can lead to numerous injuries such as Achilles tendonitis –inflammation of the Achilles tendon – or stress fractures. Others claim bodies are built to run shoeless — and do so without hurting themselves.” (Oregon Live. 2011)

For the moment, the research is still being done to decide how safe it is to run barefoot. In the meantime, we recommend finding the proper shoes for your feet that will help prevent injury and protect the feet while running. What do you think of the new fad? Leave us a comment!


* Reynolds, Gretchen. Phys Ed: Is Running Barefoot Better for You? October 21, 2009


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