When people set out to begin a workout routine or, more specifically, a running regimen, what do they set out to purchase? Good running shoes, of course! Well amid the nearly endless selection of workout-ready footwear lining sporting gear store shelves, you may notice more and more minimalist, or barefoot, running shoes. Flying in the face of the conventional wisdom about the benefits of shoe technology, these shoes actually promote foot muscle health.
While barefoot running may not be best for those who already have podiatric problems, it actually makes good sense.
Considering that indigenous cultures in which people don’t wear shoes don’t have issues with injuries from foot overuse, it seems that actually using our foot muscles is key to avoiding such injuries. In fact, even hip, knee, and ankle pain can be linked to weakened feet and toes. What causes atrophy of foot muscles? Shoes! In fact, the “better,” or more supportive, our shoes have become, the more likely foot weakness and stiffness are.
While the muscles of our feet and toes are fully capable of performing the stability we need, when we rely on shoes to do what our foot muscles should be doing, those muscles weaken. Such weakness in the feet of runners is to blame for many lower extremity injuries.
According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, the incidence of running injuries has paralleled improvement in shoe technology. Today, 65-80% of runners endure lower extremity injuries, each year. By contrast, runners who embrace barefoot running practices encounter report fewer issues.
There are, however, some precautions that should be taken by those new to barefoot running. Because of their already weakened foot muscles, the increased impact can cause injuries that wouldn’t be so common if they’d never used the once-popular supportive shoes.
Whether you’re a runner or not, these observations probably have you wondering why we wear shoes, in the first place, and whether or not doing so is a healthy practice. Here are some basic reasons:
Protection from cuts and filth
These issues can be real, at times, but going barefoot or wearing slippers with little to no support around the house should keep this argument at bay. The barefoot running shoes help eliminate these potential problems, too.
Going barefoot or even working in one’s stocking feet is often seen as “low class,” unhygienic, or even crass. Once called “summer feet,” the calloused foot bottoms that come from carefree outdoor play are rarely even seen on children anymore.
Self-image and fashion
Have you ever heard the phrase “the shoes make the man”? We all have. From increasing our height or sex appeal to completing a fashionable outfit with panache, shoes have become a cultural obsession.
Some people already find the barefoot running shoes to be comfy enough to wear for non-workout occasions. As the studies continue to mount, perhaps more casual-looking shoes with minimal support will surface.
While famous names in running shoes are scampering to invent minimalist running sandals and invisible shoes, maybe we’d all be better off going back to the days of “summer feet.”
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