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Why Barefoot Running?

     People run barefoot for a variety of reasons.  I started running barefoot because of injuries.  I ran a 15K, a trail marathon, and a road marathon in traditional running shoes.  During that ill-fated running season, I suffered blackened toenails, plantar fasciitis, chronically sore knees and hips, a reoccurring lower back pain, and shin splints. 

     After doing some research, I decided to try barefoot running once a week.  I fell in love with it and abandoned the old shoes within a week!  Other people have other reasons for giving it a try, including:

·         Strengthen their feet

·         Reduce injuries

·         Inspired by books such as “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall

·         Reminiscent of childhood

·         Don't like the feeling of sweaty, smelly socks and shoes

·         Do not enjoy running, looking for something to make it fun

·         Long-time runners looking for a new challenge

·         Want to run in a more natural way

·         Simplifying their lives

     Barefoot running has experienced a resurgence in popularity over the last few years.  Part of this resurgence is the result of interesting research that gives tantalizing hints about the nature of running injuries.  Most runners assume the running shoes they use are designed to prevent injuries. 

     As researchers explore the relationship between injuries and footwear, some interesting relationships appear.  Dr. B. Marti (1989) published one of the first studies that seemed to link shoe properties with injuries.  Marti tested over 5,000 runners that had finished a race.  He found that runners that ran in expensive shoes (costing more than $95) were more than twice as likely to have been injured in the last year than runners that ran in cheaper shoes (costing less than $40). 

      Around the same time, Hamill and Bates (1988) published a study that seemed to show that shoes improved as they wore out.  Like a fine wine, they improved with age!  As the cushioning and motion-control aspects broke down, the foot was allowed to function more naturally.   These two studies seemed to indicate the best shoes are old, worn-out cheap shoes.  It is no coincidence that the rate of running injuries was significantly lower prior to the advent of the modern running shoe (Froncioni, 2006).  Running in thin-soled Converse All-Stars was healthier than today’s shoes!

     Other significant research seems to support these claims.  Samuel Shulman (1949) was a pioneer in investigating the potential perils of shoes.  He found a dramatic decrease in foot deformities in children that did not wear shoes as small children. 

     Steele Stewart (1972) reiterated this claim by comparing shod and unshod populations.  Steven Robbins and colleagues (1987, 1988, 1990, 1993, & 1995) have conducted a series of experiments to empirically measure various characteristics of running in shoes versus barefoot.  Among their many findings is the discovery that wearing shoes decreases a runner’s ability to judge impact.  As such, shod runners produce far greater impact force when running.  This is believed to be a major factor in the development of running injuries. 

     Craig, Parker, and Callister (2008) have done a thorough search of the existing literature to find some research that supports prescribing shoes with elevated, cushioned heels and pronation control systems to runners.  It is not a surprise that their search yielded no results. 

     Current ongoing research is further investigating the properties of modern running shoes versus minimalist shoes and barefoot running.  While this research has yet to be published, the current peer-review empirical research supports to adaptation of minimalist shoes and/or barefoot running to help reduce the incidence of injuries.