Want to Try Barefoot Running? Here’s What You Need to Know

Running barefoot brings up images of a carefree time, perhaps running in the backyard or down the beach to the ocean. However, it’s not just a fun thing to do here and there. It’s also a popular sport among serious athletes. “Barefoot” running often doesn’t mean running without footwear. It usually means there’s minimal footwear, as opposed to fully cushioned shoes.

In this blog, the providers at Washington Foot & Ankle Sports Medicine discuss the benefits of barefoot running, how you can get started, and whether or not you should take up the sport.

The origins of barefoot running

People have been running barefoot on all kinds of surfaces for centuries, and many people still do. In fact, Ethopian Abebe Bikila won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics by running with bare feet. 

The running shoe as we know it today is a relatively new invention. And while running on concrete may seem like it would be difficult, the fact is, foot bones adapt to whatever surfaces they contact over time.

The benefits of barefoot running

As evidenced by the fact that barefoot running will initially cause soreness in your calves and lower legs, this running style will strengthen different muscle groups that you normally wouldn’t while running. A 2010 study suggests that the human body was never designed to run wearing cushioned shoes. The running posture of those in shoes is completely different from the posture of those not wearing shoes.

In fact, by running barefoot, you may come to experience almost no pain by striking with the forefront of your foot as opposed to your heel. You may still feel some soreness in your calves, feet, and lower legs, which is normal. And while you may develop some calluses in the process, they can help you avoid injuries.

How to get started

First, choose an appropriate pair of minimal running shoes. You may wish to go to your local running store to ask for recommendations for your feet. You’ll want to select a pair of shoes that have minimal padding and a relatively flat sole without arch support. The shoe should be flexible when you bend it.

If you’re a seasoned runner but have not done much barefoot running, you’ll still want to ease into barefoot running. That’s because barefoot running uses the bones and tendons in your feet in a different manner, and you’ll strike the ground differently, too. If you ramp up barefoot running too quickly, you risk getting injured.

A word of caution

Although barefoot running has a lot of intriguing potential for increasing athletic performance, there are times no one should run barefoot, and there are some people who shouldn’t take up the sport.

When to avoid running barefoot

All runners should avoid barefoot running when the ground is cold. This is because you might not notice when your feet have gone numb, and if you injure your foot, you may not know it.

Who shouldn’t run barefoot

Those who regularly have issues with numbness in their feet ― such as people with diabetic neuropathy ― should avoid running in minimalist shoes or without shoes. This is also because you may injure your foot and not know it.

You may also want to see us for a gait analysis, which can determine any issues, including foot abnormalities, which might give you problems with barefoot running.

If you would like to learn more about barefoot running, we can help. In addition to offering insight into your running style, we can also offer tips about how to run barefoot as successfully as possible. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Washington Foot & Ankle Sports Medicine today.

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