Benefits of Barefoot Running

A recent study at Indiana University discussed the benefits of barefoot running and its capacity to decrease impact force injuries with proper technique. For some this may include a complete change in running mechanics that previously included landing on your heels or growing up running in standard athletic shoes.

Stuart Warden, director of research at the Department of Physical Therapy at Indianapolis University advocates runners suffering from repetitive running-related injuries with no results from rehabilitation consider barefoot running as an option. Athletic shoes these days are made with a big cushion under the heel and arch support that make our feet weaker and can increase impact force injuries.

When switching from shoes to running barefoot though, there is more to do than just throwing away the sneakers. A main consideration is how a runner’s feet land on the ground. Athletic shoes, with a big cushion under the heel, encourage the runner to strike the ground with heels first. The foot has so much support in these shoes that the muscles don’t need to work as much as they would otherwise and grow weaker. If you transition to barefoot running slowly and run correctly, you could decrease the risk of injury over the long term. Running shoes also place the foot in a down position that makes it difficult to comfortably land on the front part of the foot. Two key factors to get the benefits of running barefoot are:

  1. Correct running technique where the foot fall lands on the front of the foot
  2. Slowly building muscle strength in and around the foot.

With improper barefoot running technique, the risk of injury could increase. Barefoot running is painful when landing on heels. In shoes or barefoot, the heel striking the ground first causes the impact force damage that is conveyed right up through the foot and into the body. The predominant theory is that the impact force contributes to stress fractures and other injuries associated with running. By decreasing those impact forces, the risk of injury is reduced. When barefoot runner’s feet land on the front or middle of the foot and the heel is lowered to the ground, the impact force is less and the risk of potential injury is lower.

When you are considering moving to barefoot running you should see your physical therapist first. Your therapist can help you slowly correct bad form and increase foot strength to adopt this new technique. Many physical therapists have gait training treadmills that can unweight you while you are correcting any issues and getting used to the barefoot running mechanics. See your physical therapist and see if barefoot running is a good option for you!