by Jon Vredenburg
If you have been running lately, chances are you may have noticed something missing from some runners: shoes. The popularity of a Paleo lifestyle has helped to fuel the barefoot running phenomenon. Proponents of this technique, who are rarely licensed medical professionals, state that shoes only serve to weaken and disrupt the natural mechanics of the foot. Dr. Andrew Bartell maintains that foot physiology is not that straightforward. “It is all based on the foot type,” he states. “If you have a high-arching foot, it[barefoot running] can be very problematic.” He adds that runners with a normal arch on their foot should not experience too many problems with barefoot running, but if the foot is limited in flexibility barefoot running will only lead to more problems.
Minimalist footwear is another option for those not quite ready to put their feet forward without some type of covering. These shoes, as their names implies, provide little more than a covering for the foot. The shoes lack cushioning at the heel and do not provide arch support. For this reason, your arch type has to be scrutinized before trying minimalist footwear. While hard surfaces may be painful at first, the mechanics of your run can adapt to decrease the stiffness of your calves when striking the pavement
It is also important to have full sensory function of your foot before barefoot running. If you have lost sensation in your feet, you may not notice if you step on a piece of glass or a rock. The same risk also applies, if your feet are cold and numb due to colder weather. In these two scenarios, shoe coverings would be warranted regardless of your foot type.
Before you consider throwing away your running shoes though, it is a good idea to have your feet checked by a podiatrist. “If you are not evaluated for the proper foot type, you are setting yourself up for failure,” states Dr. Bartell. While there are anecdotal reports of fewer injuries with barefoot running, there has been little scientific research to qualify those assumptions. Barefoot running can benefit the right person, with a normal arch, running in the right race at the right distance. Road races and distances greater than 10K mean that a runner could be better served by wearing shoes. “For the average weekend warrior, personally, I suggest going with a structured and stabilized running shoe,” adds Dr. Bartell.
For additional information about minimalist running, visit North Florida Foot and Ankle Center of Jacksonville’s website, nffac.com, to learn more about their services or call 904-236-5023 to schedule an appointment.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.