When it comes to running – in a word—no, barefoot is never better. I would say the same even for walking.
The premiere episode of the new HBO comedy series “Silicon Valley” flashed on one of the tech-geniuses wearing a pair of the “five-fingers” style barefoot style shoes, and this triggered lots of excited texts from my patients. While this style of running shoe definitely has a cult-ish following, I do not recommend it.
Here’s the thing: we want to believe that we are part of raw nature, wild, untamed. We are not.
As we’ve blogged about before, there is no doubt that our common ancestors on the open savannahs of Africa ran and walked barefoot. And there are indigenous populations, including traditional cultures of South America, which still run and walk barefoot.
I still don’t recommend it.
If you’re feeling tribal, by all means eat a mango, tie on a low-slung batik sarong, or do some freestyle chanting in an aboriginal language. But all contemporary research suggests that our feet fare better when they are protected by supportive footwear. Especially when we run.
In February, 2013, a study conducted by Sarah Ride, a professor of exercise science at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT was published in the journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. This study demonstrates bone injuries to the test-group of runners who began logging miles in the barefoot-type shoe.
Specifically, most of the participating runners developed bone marrow edema, which was revealed by an M.R.I. The injuries, measured by an accumulation of fluid in their foot bones, was considered moderately serious —a 3 out of a possible 4 in the injury-ranking.
Two of the runners who participated in the study experienced full stress fractures. Ouch! And almost all of the runners wearing the minimalist-style shoe during the study started spontaneously running less—we conclude this was because their feet hurt. Do you really want to reduce your workout?
It’s possible that some individuals may adapt well to barefoot-style running. Mileage, running form, body weight and other variables make a difference.
But my advice now and always: protect your feet with a supportive shoe that stabilizes your heel and keeps your foot in a neutral (non-pronated) position to minimize pain and the risk of injury. And not just when you’re running.