Barefoot running: How to Adjust and Avoid Injury

How to Avoid Injury

Barefoot running is one of the most popular running trends of the last few years. The excitement over barefoot running was largely started by the 2009 book Born to Run by runner and author Christopher McDougall.

The book explores the author’s adoption of barefoot running in the style of the Tarahumara tribe of Mexico, who are able to run barefoot for extremely long distances at a time. McDougall uses barefoot running as a way to combat common running-related injuries such as heel pain and achilles tendonitis, even though the topic has been hotly debated.

Even though modern running shoes are designed to cushion the heel and prevent injury, some runners like McDougall claim that the impact on the heel caused by a running style adapted to these shoes does more harm than good.

On the contrary, however, there is currently no evidence to suggest that running shoes cause more injury than running without them. Additionally, some podiatrists have seen many patients who have been injured due to barefoot running, including issues with the achilles tendon, the ball of the foot, and the metatarsal bones due to impact on the front of the foot.

If you do decide to try barefoot running, pay attention to the following steps:

1. Take it slow. Allow time to adjust your running style and for your feet and joints to get used to the change in running style. Doing too much of such a different, high-impact activity too quickly greatly increases the chance of injury.

2. It is also important to take short strides and land on the forefront portion of the foot. This relieves stress from the heel and allows the shock to be effectively absorbed. Taking longer strides means landing on the heel or even flat footed, which can lead to heel and joint pain. New barefoot runners should practice this shorter stride when walking and beginning their training.

3. Remember to pay close attention to your running surface. Running on grass, for example, might mean looking for holes or hidden rocks while running on pavement means watching for gravel, broken glass, etc. There are more and more minimalist shoes being developed to help with protecting feet from these dangers.

Whether you are experiencing pain from a possible injury or if you are planning on trying a new running style, taking the proper steps to protect your feet as well as consulting with a local podiatrist about the risks and benefits of barefoot running can help you have a more positive experience.