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Posted Date: 6/16/2015

What’s the deal with barefoot running?

You were born to run. No, really.

The human anatomy and metabolic system are made to run long distances, reports a July 2012 study in the scientific journal Ageing Research Reviews. The length of your toes might even be an indication that evolution favored a body fit to run long distances, suggests another report in the March 2009 issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology.

Researchers at Harvard University theorize that your body is like this because of evolutionary needs to run long distances. The need to run long distances may have been to hunt animals for food or run from danger. Either way, one thing is clear—your ancestors didn’t run in cushioned sneakers.

If those theories are true, it could explain the increased popularity of barefoot running. If your body is built to run, why mess with nature?

What Is Barefoot Running?

Barefoot running is exactly what it sounds like—running long distances without any shoes or in very thin-soled shoes.

Sounds crazy, right?

The idea of barefoot running was first brought to the world’s attention during the 1960 Olympics. Abebe Bikila, a then-28-year-old man from Ethiopia, won the gold medal for the Olympic marathon while running barefoot. Since then, barefoot running has gained popularity.

More recently in 2009, the book Born to Run increased interest in this phenomena. In the book, author Chris McDougall explores the culture of the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico. They’re a tribe renowned for their long-distance running ability. And guess how they do it: barefoot. 

What Are The Benefits Of Barefoot Running?

The greatest case for barefoot running is to prevent injury. Researchers are still working to confirm this hypothesis, according to a November 2009 article in the scientific journal Nature. 

The study highlighted the differences in foot striking patterns for habitual barefoot runners vs. runners who wear shoes.

Barefoot runners were more likely to land on the front or middle of their feet, while runners wearing traditional running shoes landed on their heels.

This pattern of landing on your heel may cause more impact injuries, like stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and runner's knee. 

Other advantages of barefoot running include:

  • Strengthening muscles in your feet
  • Using less energy while running


Before You Make The Switch

Barefoot running is not without controversy and may not be ideal for all runners. The research has been inconclusive about full benefits or risks, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).

However, the APMA has identified some risks that are obvious. For one, barefoot running may increase the likelihood of a puncture wound. This exposure can also lead to greater stress on your lower extremities. 

If you do decide to take up barefoot running, be smart and take precautions.

Learning to run barefoot properly—which means changing your heel-striking pattern—doesn’t happen overnight. Before taking up barefoot running, consult your doctor about how to prevent possible injury. Also, a sports medicine specialist can properly assess your training and body mechanics.

For more information on running and running problems, make an appointment with a McLaren Macomb physician.

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