Welcome to the year 2013 where all natural is the way to go, where treating our bodies the way nature intended is believed to be the key to health and longevity. Unfortunately some things are better left to man made and the movement of barefoot running may not be as healthy as it claims to be. Barefoot running is defined as “natural running” implies an activity that may in fact be good for us. Wearing sneakers is now unnatural. On a recent jog through Central Park , I noticed many feet in so called “five finger” shoes and other minimalist devices. These runners seemed to move with ease, in fact some of them passing me up as I make my way through the loop. The athletic shops are filled with many different brands and styles to choose from. The advertisements boast benefits such as the development of stronger lower extremity muscles, better running, and more endurance. To date, there have been no studies that have demonstrated that barefoot running is advantageous. My private practice is bustling with runners. The first question I ask them during the investigation of their injury is “what type of shoe were you running in?” When their answer is minimalist type a red flag is raised. Injuries like Achilles tendonitis, retrocalcaneal burisits, and stress fractures. These overuse type injuries have existed for years and have flourished NYC podiatric practices. What is so different about these injuries are the patients who have been wearing proper shoe gear for physical activity and never had any foot ailments have suddenly become malaised. I refer to it as being “malaised and crazed”. The new trend of barefoot running has taken on a new life. People have been influenced to believe that barefoot running will free you from your chronic injuries. The practice of barefoot running traces all the way back to ancient Greek times and has made a recent comeback. In the 21st century, marathoners from the United States , to the Netherlands and even to Mumbai boasted record times running marathons in their minimalist shoes. In 2009 Christopher McDougall”s book, “Born to Run” tripled the number of barefoot runners when it became the “go to” guide on barefoot running. McDougall clearly intended for runners to change their gait pattern as a part of the habit but most shod runners fail to do that. Most runners perform a normal heel strike to midfoot to forefoot strike. The idea of barefoot running is to become a fore foot striker, thereby reducing your stride and the impact of the heel on the ground. So maybe we were not born to run afterall. Unless you are an idiopathic toe walker this is not the normal pattern. Most of my patients who follow the trend are not aware of the mandatory gait change or often find learning a new gait pattern difficult to accomplish. They often have underlying biomechanical issues i.e., mortons toe, pes planus, hallux rigidus, gastroc. equinus to name a few. The shod runner keeps running with the same gait pattern and the foot becomes an unstable and overloaded foundation. It competes against concrete and biomechanical problems and eventually loses the war. The other factor is protection of your feet in the environment. Being neuropathic is an absolute contraindicaiton. The best way to be armed is to talk to your doctor or physical therapist about your biomechanics, your running goals and to have your gait evaluated before you decide to “bare” it all.
Rosanna Troia, DPM.
Written By Dr. Rosanna Troia