BAREFOOT AND MINIMALIST RUNNING: WHAT DO WE KNOW?

We’ve decided to share a few of the highlights of a great article that can be found at www.moveforward.com

BAREFOOT RUNNING: WHAT DO WE KNOW?

Only 2% of runners run barefoot on a regular basis 1.

Advocates of barefoot/minimalist-shoe running suggest that changes in mechanics, foot strength, and impact have a direct relationship to injury reduction.

The most common justifications for barefoot running are:

  1. It is the “natural” way of running.
  2. It prevents injury.
  3. It makes you run faster.
  4. It strengthens the muscles of your feet.

NATURAL RUNNING

The evidence of the relationship between shoes and these changes is lacking. Interestingly, since the change in shoe construction has changed dramatically over the past 40 years, the rate of injuries among runners has not. It would seem possible that this is due to 2 potential reasons 3:

  1. Shoes are not related to the injuries, or
  2. The features of shoes are addressing the wrong factors.

These facts should not lead one to believe that no shoes are the answer.

PREVENTS INJURY

The theory for how barefoot running will prevent injury are based on 2 primary findings:

  1. It reduces impact, and
  2. It reduces the load at the knee.

Only 40%-50% of individuals who run barefoot adopt a midfoot or forefoot strike pattern.

By changing the strike pattern, the impact is potentially removed from the lower leg, but those impact forces are likely moved to the foot as a result.

While midfoot or forefoot striking reduces the impact forces at the knee, it concurrently increases the demand on the ankle muscles.

MUSCLE STRENGTH

Evidence suggests that short foot exercises do increase the size of the foot intrinsic muscles; however, there is no evidence to suggest that barefoot walking or running has the same effect. There is little rationale given as to the reason for the foot strengthening 14.

  • Are stronger feet less likely to be injured? Or,
  • Are stronger feet more likely to protect other structures in the lower extremities from injury?

Finally, recent findings suggest little change in foot intrinsic muscle activity after running (with or without shoes), and no difference between shoes on and shoes off 10.

CONCLUSION

Barefoot/minimalist running is a popular topic of discussion that is, in reality, not very prevalent among runners. There is little data to support its use as a training tool or treatment for injury. Continued study on the potential risks and benefits of this technique is necessary to determine its usefulness.