After my experience with Skechers GOrun shoes yesterday…I was reminded of this article from Dr. David Rudnick’s Chiropractic & Sports Rehabilitation Institute’s August – September 2012 Newsletter. It’s all about barefoot running. I’ve included the article below – but it’s also available in its original format here. (Read more about Dr. David Rudnick in our expert resources section.)
Barefoot Running – Yay or Nay?
“If you want to follow the fad craze these days, just look to companies like Vibram, Merrell and Nike. Vibram is the company that has brought you the soles and treads of many of the shoes you have worn over the years and of course Nike are the people who first brought you the “running shoe” as we know it today. Nike first brought us the waffle bottom trainer, cross trainer, air pockets, “shocks,” Air Jordan, and now its barefoot minimalist series—the Nike Free.”
What initially stymied us when these “barefoot” style shoes first came out was the obvious question: “Why would the same brands that sell us the shoes and offer so many varieties to choose from, now be advocating that we train barefoot, or close to it? “ But are they? The Nike shoes have light-weight, thin, flexible soles and thin vamp top cover material to hold the shoe onto the foot; the Vibram version is more simplistic—a rubber sock with compartments for each individual toe.
So why would Nike and Vibram both go against their own creations and advocate that we begin walking and running barefoot, or at least become “shoe-minimalists” after decades of building shoe and sole lines? There appears to be sound moral reasoning if you delve into the research, but you have to look closely; and if you’d like to try one of the creations, you have to be aware of your personal foot type – but that’s for another day.
Current research has been conducted showing the following:
- Plantar (bottom of the foot) sensory feedback plays a central role in safe and effective locomotion;
- More shoe cushioning can lead to higher impact forces on the joints and risk of injury;
- Unshod (without shoes) lowers contact time of the foot;
- There are higher braking and pushing impulses in shod versus unshod running;
- Unshod running presents a reduction of impact peak force that would reduce the high mechanical stress that occurs during repetitive running; and
- A bare foot induces a neural-mechanical adaptation which could enhance the storage and restitution of elastic energy at ankle extensor level.
- These are only some of the more significant findings. These issues will not only support injury management benefits for the barefoot runner but increase speed, force and power output.
“Stepping backwards in time a little…during caveman days things were very different and the foot was left bare from birth until death. As a result the foot both developed and appeared different. The sole of the foot was thicker and callused due to constant contact with rough surfaces; the foot was more muscular; it was probably wider in the forefoot; and the toes were likely slightly separated due to the demands of griping the ground. Overall, the foot simply worked differently; it worked better; and it worked more like the engineering marvel it truly is. However, as time went on, man messed with a good thing and took a foot that was highly sensitive with a significant sensory and motor representation in the brain and he covered it up with a slab of leather and/or rubber. Further, man then flattened and then paved the world and his home with cement, wood, pavement and/or tile and successfully completed the total sensory information deprivation of the foot. Not only did man take away critical adaptive skills from himself, he began the deprivation of critical information from which the central nervous system needs to develop and function effectively.”
As a result, we now affix a shoe to a child’s foot before he or she can walk. When the baby begins to walk, all propriosensory information necessary for the development of critical spinal and central nervous system reflexes is virtually absent. Therefore, is it any wonder why there are so many people in chronic pain from postural disorders related to central core weakness and inhibition? Is it any wonder why so many people have flat, incompetent feet and arches? Man has done it to himself. But thankfully man has proven he can undo what has been done. There is much modern medical research that has uncovered the woes of our ways. And as a result, companies like Nike and Vibram are developing devices that will allow some protection from modern day offenses like glass, plastic and metal, but also allow for the slow, gradual return to caveman days.
There are many shoes available that have potentially serious biomechanical flaws. We are happy to discuss our sound reasoning regarding these shoes and their impact on your condition during a consultation. Shoes need to be specifically chosen for your foot type, activity type, walking and/or running style and muscle weaknesses. The wrong shoe choice can in itself be a cause of pain or problems and lead to abnormal mechanics or physical problems.
Potential Harms of Barefoot Running
- Suddenly going barefoot or wearing a minimalist shoe can be quite a shock to the foot. But that isn’t the only concern one should have when starting a shoeless workout. Runners and walkers alike should keep the following in mind:
- Why Fix What Isn’t Broken?
- If you have no problems, no pain, do you need to change anything?
- Little Foot Protection
- Shoes offer a significant amount of protection from road debris such as glass, nails, rocks and thorns. They also offer insulation in cold weather and protect us from frostbite in ice and snow.
- Achilles Tendinitis and Calf Strain
- Most of us aren’t used to running barefoot, so a minimalist shoe will be a shock to our feet. Also, our muscles will feel overworked. In some cases, this can lead to injury (e.g. Achilles tendinitis or calf strain).
- May Increase Plantar Pain
- The bottom of the feet (plantar surface) for most people is soft and tender. Going without a stiff-soled shoe may initially cause plantar pain, or increase the risk of plantar fasciitis.
- Get Ready for Blisters
- Almost everyone who switches to a minimal shoe or starts going shoeless will find themselves battling blisters for the first few weeks until calluses are formed.
- You Will Look Strange
- Face it: People will notice and they may stare!
*Parts of this article were from a research paper “Thoughts & Research for the Shoe Minimalist” by Dr. Shawn Allen, Dr. Ivo Waerlop, Chris Korfist.
Study by Harvard University on barefoot running.