What do you think about barefoot running?

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Barefoot RunningJill Murphy, DPT, LAT, CSCS

Question: There are so many trends in running these days. What do you think about barefoot running?

Answer: Barefoot running is an interesting topic with many aspects to the debate. While scientific research readily supports the idea that running in running shoes is not as efficient as running barefoot, there is more that you need to consider before deciding to ditch your shoes. We utilize shoes for a variety of reasons, such as protecting our feet from lacerations, stones, calluses, and hot blacktop, utilize the cushioning for running on hard cement and blacktop surfaces, and take advantage of specialized shoes that can give us additional support where we need it, or allow us to wear orthotics custom-made to support our feet in the best position possible to tolerate long distance running.

Many barefoot running proponents may point out that Kenyan and other runners who tend to run barefoot are among the most elite distance runners in the world. However, in our country, how many of us go barefoot all of our childhood, whether walking, running, working, or going shopping or going to church? The Kenyan culture is one of barefoot children who walk and run long distances due to necessity, not to choice. And because Kenyans have been doing it their whole life, many may be comfortable and their feet are accustomed to the rigors of running without the cushioned support of shoes. Americans, on the other hand, are used to utilizing shoes everywhere we go in public from babyhood on, so to switch from shoes to barefoot running frequently contributes to new orthopedic injuries due to the unique and new stresses placed on different parts of the lower extremities and even the hips and low back.  We simply are not accustomed to the barefoot condition. Even Kenyan runners typically choose to utilize running shoes, not just for the sponsorships they can gain, but because very few long distance races are run on the same dirt they once ran barefoot on during their youth. Anyone who has made the mistake of running on dirt or pea gravel trails and then ran a marathon on cement and blacktop roads can fill you in on how significant the change in surface can be on the human body.

Should you try barefoot running? As always, the choice is yours. As for me, I’m keeping my shoes. The slight inefficiency my shoes create is more than compensated by the ability to wear my custom orthotics and heel lift that put my feet in the optimal position to withstand whatever distance I tackle with a reduced risk of injury. That’s worth lacing them up to me.

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