Barefoot running is becoming increasingly popular among runners, beginners and veterans alike. More competitive and casual runners than ever before are opting to run sans shoes, and the question of whether shoes are beneficial to athletes has the running community very divided. While the supporters of the barefoot running movement are numerous, its opponents also exist, and they protest their counterparts’ lack of shoes vociferously. So as a runner, what should you do? Should you ditch your sneakers?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a correct answer to that. There certainly are benefits to barefoot running, as companies that market “better than barefoot” running shoes (shoes that offer the benefits of barefoot running with some limited protection) will certainly tell you. They claim that wearing conventional shoes while running is unnatural.
Since conventional shoes are designed to provide support, they say, your foot is not required to perform its natural stabilization duties. Shoes are designed to hold the bones and joints of the foot in place to maximize comfort, but this means that the foot, toe, and ankle muscles are engaging in unnatural ways. They are not stabilizing your foot as they do when you walk or run barefoot, so as a result, these muscles weaken. Because they are weak, you experience frequent foot pain and stiffness, as well as extreme arch soreness.
As a runner, supporters of the barefoot running movement claim, it doesn’t make sense to neglect your foot muscles. There have been studies completed that seem to support the barefoot runners’ cause, such as the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine’s report that stated that since the 1970s, as running shoe advancements have supposedly improved, reports of injuries among runners have increased significantly. There is also evidence suggesting that barefoot running clubs and track teams, as well as indigenous cultures that don’t wear shoes, experience far fewer foot injuries than the rest of the shoe-wearing population.
This doesn’t mean that barefoot running is a perfect solution. First, it can result in some extreme soreness at the beginning of your barefoot running practice. Because the muscles of the foot have been made weak from years of supportive shoes, engaging them will undoubtedly cause some pain at first.
Additionally, barefoot running can result in infections. If you have any open cuts or sores in the foot area, you should avoid running barefoot on the filthy streets. Barefoot running can also obviously result in new cuts and sores. So if you are convinced about making the switch, consider purchasing running shoes designed to simulate the effects of running barefoot. These shoes provide no support or forced structure and are usually extremely lightweight, yet they provide your foot with some protection from sharp objects, trash, and the elements.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their site or call them at 202-223-8500.
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