Day: July 13, 2010

To Go Bare, or Not to Go Bare? That is the Question!

Many magazines and gyms have heard the hype about running barefoot. It’s becoming a craze with running enthusiasts everywhere. There is even a brand of shoes on the market that are supposed to mimic wearing nothing called Vibram FiveFingers. The company states that “it puts you in touch with the earth beneath your feet and liberates you to move in a more natural, healthy way.” So the question is; what is the best way to run for your feet; no shoes, natural shoes, or running shoes?

Many exercise physiologists believe that wearing shoes, like other braces and supporters, weaken the muscles, ligaments, tendons and natural arches that support the structure of the foot. They think that the added cushion and supportive shoe inserts create poor biomechanics which can lead to increased risk of foot, knee and leg injuries.

On the other hand, some experts believe that certain proper fitting shoes can actually correct a lot of biomechanical problems, helping to alleviate the risk of injury. They state that if correcting foot pain was as simple as going bare foot, why isn’t everyone doing it, and why is the pain still present. Jumping into wearing no shoes can shock the feet, and without an adaptation phase can create more severe foot problems.

Until there is definitive research about whether one is better than the other all we can do is make an informed decision on what mode of running would benefit us most. So here are the pros and cons of barefoot running.

Pros:
* May develop a more natural gait, strengthen the muscle, tendons and ligaments of the foot
* Helps the calves & Achilles tendon lengthen and stretch, reducing likelihood of lower leg injuries
* May learn to land on forefoot rather than heel. Heel striking while running came around because of the excessive padding in the heels of shoes. Research is now showing that heel striking is less efficient, because you are basically putting on the brakes every step. Landing on the forefoot allows the arches of the foot to act as a natural shock absorber.
* Can improve balance and proprioception by working smaller stabilizing muscles

Cons:
* If you are not experiencing any problems, should you not run in shoes?
* They offer a layer of protection against foreign objects and the elements like snow and rain.
* Overworking the small muscles, causing Achilles tendonitis and calf strains.
* Without the stiff-soled shoe, our soft tender plantar surface may be more susceptible to plantar fasciitis.
* Blisters will be your friends for the first couple of weeks without shoes.

If your feet have had aches that wont go away, try bare foot running. Just be aware that there are some consequences of running with protection; but your feet may thank you for the freedom to move more naturally, or they may say get me back in my protective environment. Only you can decide what is right for your own feet. If running bare foot is just too much, try one of the new shoes on the market like the Vibram FiveFingers and see if it is that perfect combination of support and freedom you feet need. Like any exercise, don’t jump in full bore, try it out a little at a time and listen to your body! Have fun and get running.