Topic of Interest

In Motion

A Publication of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
sPorT plus physical therapy, LLC

Article 5: Barefoot Running: Is it a good idea?
By John D. Kelly IV, MD

Barefoot running has become the craze with many “experts” extolling its virtues. The book sensation, Born to Run, has generated much interest in the subject of barefoot running. The book’s thesis is that shoeless running is kinder and gentler to the body. But is this statement supported by science? Indeed, many high performance runners have succeeded in both running and training shoeless. However, most world class runners are still found wearing shoes during competition.

There actually is some basic science to support the virtues of barefoot running but the clinical data is sparse. Similarly, there are no good data to support the industry’s claim that running shoes prevent injury.

The mechanics of running have changed significantly during shoe wear. During shoeless running, the edge of the foot strikes the ground with the most force and the impact stress is spread out. Also, foot pronation – Mother Nature’s way of dissipating impact stress during landing – is unimpeded in the barefoot runner. Running in shoes (especially heavily padded ones) typically shifts more impact away from the arch, prevents full pronation, and shifts stress to the heel and hind foot. Shoe runners also tend not to flex their foot when running as often. Finally, oxygen consumption in runners is increased by approximately four percent when shoes are worn.