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Barefoot Running: The new running style?
March 13, 2014
Kin Wai Wu, MSPT
I am more a cyclist than a runner. However, it doesn’t stop me from expanding my horizons as a physical therapist. I went to a barefoot running seminar at a local recreation equipment store a while ago. I was just curious about the entire buzz of barefoot running.
This class opened up my mind in how I treat in my physical therapy practice.The speaker mentioned how he got involved in barefoot running after a horrific accident that shattered his hip, femur, and knee. He jokes about how his “new” titanium hip and femur are better than his old one. He was trying to get back to running with regular running shoes after a handful of reconstructive surgeries. Of course his hip and knee were killing him after each run. With his “nothing to lose” mentally, he threw his shoes away and attempted to run barefoot. His first attempt was a success; he ran a total of 100 yards! Long story short, he’s on his bare feet 90% of the time today.
Why go barefoot? Here are some reasons. First, the bottoms of our feet are rich in nerve endings and we can feel the ground better barefoot than with shoes on. Our body can adjust to different terrain faster, thus creating a more efficient stride. Second, the mechanical aspect of our feet and leg muscles act as spring loaded mechanism. Barefoot runners naturally touch down at the ball of their feet (because landing on a bare heel hurts!!), therefore, the impact from landing is able to transmit evenly throughout the entire body. The tradition running technique with running shoes forces the body to strike the ground with the heel. The body has to rely on that 1-2 inch thick “shock absorber” in the heel of the shoe rather than using the whole body. This may be the reason why most runners develop degenerative or overuse injuries on their back and lower extremities. Third is the difference of the running technique. Traditional runners tend to have a longer stride than barefoot runners. They naturally have to jump higher (3 inches) in order to have a longer stride. 3 inches seems pretty harmless, however, it adds up to approximately a mile of vertical jump if you run a marathon. That’s a lot of jumping! Plus, with traditional running form our bodies hit the brake every time we strike down our heel. Our heel can’t propel us forward; it’s the job of our forefoot! Thanks to our sensitive and tender feet, barefoot running tends to equate to a shorter stride and less jumping. This technique helps to eliminate the braking effect from heel striking and the repetitive pounding and jarring of the body which helps to propel you forward more efficiently.
I am not saying that running shoeless is the only way to go. Feel free to stick with your running philosophy as long as you are pain free. Wearing shoes or not, there is more than meets the eye with barefoot running.
My last advice: Be happy and run like a child! Have a nice day.