Barefoot Running: Your MUST READ Guide to the Pro's and Con's.

Alex Clarke Ashgrove Physiotherapist

Article by Alex Clarke

Barefoot Running

barefoot running

What is Barefoot Running?

Barefoot running is a term that means either running either without shoes or with minimalist shoes. Barefoot running has gained popularity over the last few years as a way to return to pure running and has been proclaimed to help reduce the rate of running injuries. But is this accurate?

To gain a more scientific basis on whether barefoot running is advantageous or not for you, let’s look at what researchers have discovered. 

Who is Suited to Barefoot Running?

When you run without shoes, you tend to land on the front part of our foot. This is called a forefoot strike. Landing through the centre of your foot is called a midfoot strike.

If you were to land barefoot on your heel, it's called a rearfoot strike, the ground-shock would be excessive, and you would develop heel pain or injury, plus some other injuries further up your leg. That's why most barefoot runners tend to have a forefoot or midfoot strike. When you put on a traditional jogger with rearfoot cushioning, this cushioning allows you to land on your heel without damage. This is why lot of shoe runners become rearfoot strikers.

Ground Reaction Forces

The graphs below chart what is called ground reaction forces. The chart to the left is a rearfoot strike technique, and the right chart demonstrates a forefoot strike.

running shoes

What does this Mean?

Generally, the higher the force, the greater the risk of injury. When you look closer, however, you can see that the ground reaction forces are actually higher in the forefoot strike chart. Surely this would mean that you would get more injuries running with a forefoot strike technique. Not exactly. As well as considering the ground reaction force, you also need to look at the vertical loading rate.

Vertical Loading Rate

Vertical loading rate (see the chart below) is a measure of how quickly the ground reaction forces increase. 

barefoot

The steeper the curve, the greater the risk of injury. Running with a rearfoot strike produces a steeper curve, and makes some leg injuries more likely, but once again not all.

Running Shoes vs Barefoot Running

Does this mean you should toss away all of your running shoes? Maybe hold on them just a little longer. The evidence is not clear yet as to whether a forefoot/midfoot strike does actually reduce your injury rate. What appears to occur is the barefoot running reduces loads in one area only to increase loads in another. And, since you are probably running on firm or rough surfaces such as footpaths, roads or gravel, you'll need some form of cushioning and protection for your feet. Don't you hate landing on those little stones!

What Should You Do?

If you are running without injuries at present you would probably be silly to change. Changing footwear and technique may simply add another increase in loading and create new injuries elsewhere. Certainly, at PhysioWorks, we are seeing more forefoot injuries in barefoot runners, which does make sense given the load charts. Plus, most of these injuries occur within a few weeks of changing your running style.

However, if you have been suffering injuries from running, barefoot may be a consideration for you. Changes to your running technique such as reducing your stride length or your shoe style could help you. You may also have some muscle control issues in another part of your body that could be altering the way you adapt your running style. So, before you toss your running shoes, it may be in your interest to consult with a running physiotherapist, a sports podiatrist or a running coach who can analyse your running style, assess your body for weakness or tightness, check your leg and foot biomechanics or simply help you to retrain your running technique or some slightly weak muscles.

Most problems that cause running injuries are simpler to fix than you may think.

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Common Running Injuries

Running is one of the easiest and most popular ways to stay fit. It is also one of the easiest ways to develop an injury. Running injuries are common and often affect the hips, knees, ankles, and feet of runners. The impact and stress of running is sometimes hard on the muscles and joints; especially if you ignore early injury signs.

Knee Pain

Ankle Injuries

Foot & Heel Pain

Groin Pain

Hip Pain

Back Pain

Muscle Pain

Neck Pain

 

Helpful Products for Running Injuries

Running Injuries

Running Injury Treatment Options

  • Early Injury Treatment
  • Avoid the HARM Factors
  • Soft Tissue Injury? What are the Healing Phases?
  • What to do after a Muscle Strain or Ligament Sprain?
  • Acupuncture and Dry Needling
  • Sub-Acute Soft Tissue Injury Treatment
  • Core Exercises
  • Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises
  • Active Foot Posture Correction Exercises
  • Gait Analysis
  • Biomechanical Analysis
  • Balance Enhancement Exercises
  • Proprioception & Balance Exercises
  • Agility & Sport-Specific Exercises
  • Medications?
  • Heel Cups
  • Orthotics
  • Real Time Ultrasound Physiotherapy
  • Soft Tissue Massage
  • Walking Boot
  • Ankle Strapping
  • Brace or Support
  • Electrotherapy & Local Modalities
  • Foam Roller
  • Heat Packs
  • Joint Mobilisation Techniques
  • Kinesiology Tape
  • Knee Arthroscopy
  • Neurodynamics
  • Prehabilitation
  • Running Analysis
  • Strength Exercises
  • Stretching Exercises
  • Supportive Taping & Strapping
  • TENS Machine
  • Video Analysis
  • Yoga
  • FAQs Running Injuries

  • Common Physiotherapy Treatment Techniques
  • What is Pain?
  • Physiotherapy & Exercise
  • How Does Kinesiology Tape Reduce Swelling?
  • What Causes Post-Exercise Muscular Pain?
  • The Best Core Exercises
  • Heat Packs. Why does heat feel so good?
  • How Does an Exercise Ball Help Back Pain?
  • How to Strap an Ankle
  • Post-Run Soreness: Should You Be Concerned?
  • Running Recovery: 6 Helpful Tips
  • Sports Injury? What to do? When?
  • What are Common Adolescent / Children Leg Injuries?
  • What are Growing Pains?
  • What are the Early Warning Signs of an Injury?
  • What is a TENS Machine?
  • What is Chronic Pain?
  • What is Nerve Pain?
  • What is Sports Physiotherapy?
  • What's the Benefit of Stretching Exercises?
  • What's Your Core Stability Score?
  • When is the Best Time for a Pre-Event Massage?
  • What are the Early Warning Signs of an Injury?
  • Call PhysioWorks Book Online


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    Last updated 31-May-2016 12:13 PM

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