Barefoot Running – Is it for you?

Changes in running regimen can be hazardous to your feet!

Current interest in barefoot running has led to questions as to the possibility of injury. All runners know that any substantial change in the big three variables of training: distance, terrain, shoes, can lead to big changes in comfort and possible risk of injury.

Switching to barefoot-style footwear would be a BIG change, maybe more so in experienced runners.

A recent case study in Orthopedics July 2011;34 (7): 320 illustrated just this scenario. Two experienced runners switched to barefoot style footwear but did not change the distance or terrain of their workouts. Both experienced stress fracture or stress reaction in the second metatarsal region within a short period of time.

The fact that the footwear change was the only change in their regimen says two things to me. 1) switching to barefoot running is not innocuous even in experienced runners and 2) in any activity or sport you should not make a major change such as this without altering your training regimen.

Barefoot running is different

The mechanics of running barefoot are different than in standard running shoes. Studies referenced in this case report bear this out. Experienced runners may find it hard if not impossible to make the switch. If it is going to happen it will likely be a slow gradual process as if learning how to run all over again.

Start slow with short distances and softer surfaces. Bones strengthen in response to the forces applied to them but it is a slow process. If hurried, bones break before they get stronger (stress fracture) or become painful (stress reaction).

Changing training regimens (and shoes)

Common sense tells us if we change any major aspect of training for any sport or activity, time, speed, or intensity, you must change the other two until you come to an equilibrium or risk injury. The runners in question did not.

For those of my patients who are runners and are not considering barefoot running, I recommend having 3 pairs of shoes; new,middle aged , and old. Replace the old pair on the basis of mileage, wear, or loss of comfort. This helps avoid the pitfall of going from an old broken down shoe to a new one (even of the same brand and style)that supports your foot in a different manner and may lead to discomfort or injury.

If you are a runner and have concerns about foot pain or injury, feel free to contact Dr Peairs and we will work toward a solution that will allow you to stay active in your desired pursuits.

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