So many of you have heard about a new study published in Nature which suggests that barefoot running maybe useful. I’ve received a number of emails from patients and friends asking me my opinion so I thought I’d share it here.
First off, I must come clean and say it rattled my thoughts on running and at first I was resistant. But after reading the research and what the authors and other experts have to say here is my opinion:
1) If you have an injury or pain, get it checked out by a doctor who is familiar with running injuries and the gait cycle. It is also important to ensure that your leg lengths are equal because if you have an imbalance this may irritate things further up the chain.
2) Don’t jump into it quickly. Slowly increase your mileage and time because your body is not used to that increased shock on the ankles, knees, hips, and neck. Although the study suggests people adapt their running fairly quickly I would recommend that you take your time on this. The same is true with conditioned runners because it’s going to shift your stride – so start off slowly.
3) I like some kind of foot cover such as the Vibram Five Fingers. While the “form of locomotion (bipedalism) has been around for millions of years, and we have been unshod for more than 99% of that time,”1 we also have not had asphalt, concrete, broken glass, rusty nails, needles, etc. for 99% of that time. I would try running barefoot somewhere safe, like a rubberized track, a beach, or even a trail.
Once again, right now I would not rush people to try this, although there is some solid research behind it. Too often I hear the argument that Kenya and other countries have remarkable barefoot runners. This doesn’t do much for me because to me it’s comparing apples to oranges. When I was in rural Uganda with the Arlington Academy of Hope, a non-profit based out of the DC area, we provided the kids at the school with shoes. It was a novel idea to many of them and some didn’t seem to wear them even after they got the shoes. They were used to walking or running to school barefoot, but they were typically running through the mud, dirt, and grass (not asphalt, or worse, concrete). I was not used to it, so when I tried walking up the hill barefoot it turned out be way worse than my mud caked boots, which I thought were basically useless. Also, I got a couple splinters that could have be a result of the lack of callus formation on my feet.
My point is that these runners are conditioned. Do you know what else they are used to that most of us aren’t? Walking or running as a primary form of transportation. They do not drive often and a walk usually means more than walking to the bus stop. That cardiovascular and muscle conditioning – and to some point genetics – makes some countries more likely to produce remarkable athletes, in my opinion.
Anyway, I am open to the concept of barefoot running; I just don’t want the mainstream media to blow it out of proportion. Just make sure that you get into it carefully if you decide that it’s something you want to pursue. Shoot, I’ve decided I’m going to try it myself.