Barefoot Running - What You Need To Know

barefoot-runningIf you are a runner yourself or involved in almost any type of training regime, it would be hard not to have noticed a lot of talk in the industry about barefoot running. The sudden craze of ditching the shoes might not make a whole lot of sense if you, like many, see the need and benefit for a good supporting training shoe. So, barefoot running - madness? or, a strategic plan for better training?

I'm an over-pronating runner myself and therefore have always taken care ensuring I wear the correct shoe type, including the use of high quality insoles / orthoses. This strategy has served me very well, injury free, for many years but I was intrigued about the barefoot running movement so I did a little research. Appreciating each individual may be suited to a slightly different strategy based on their own physiology, I summarise the following points I feel are worth of consideration.

  • It is very important that any pre-existing injury and/ or pain symptoms have been treated and settled by your Chartered Physiotherapist BEFORE starting barefoot running - otherwise this type of activity will make the injury worse.
  • Adequate flexibility of the structures supporting the foot and ankle should already be well established and then will improve the results from barefoot running.
  • Barefoot running can be useful to assist in building ankle and foot strength, improving balance and co-ordination. It may also assist in the more efficient mid to forefoot strike (as opposed to the heel first strike) as well as reducing the impact forces about the back of the foot and leg when running.
  • This type of running should be used as a form of physical rehabilitation with specific goals in mind. It is often used alongside other forms of strength training for the foot and ankle.
  • If using barefoot running to assist physical rehabilitation, it should be used when running no more than 10—20% of the time. In other words, it is a rehab technique which is not recommended to be used all of the time.
  • When not running barefoot, it is advisable that supportive footwear is used which is correct for your foot type. For example, neutral and over pronated (excess instep roll) runners would require a stability shoe, whereas supinated (high arch) runners would benefit from a cushioning shoe.
  • If the use of supportive devices such as insoles or orthotics have been prescribed either for short or medium term use, it is important to continue using these until such time that your Chartered Physiotherapist indicates they are no longer required.

Barefoot running is not for everyone and whether or not it will suit you will depend on your biomechanical profile as well as the type of injuries you may have had previously. For example, if you have very flat feet (over pronated) with a history of recurrent Achilles tendon or plantar fascia problems, you may not be suitable for barefoot running.

If you want to give the barefoot running idea a go - my advice would be to get a professional assessment from a Chartered Physiotherapist specialised in biomechanics to determine your suitability. Advice can also be offered on how to get the most benefit out of such an activity relevant to your body type.

Happy running!

By Simon Coghlan MSc, BSc Hons, DipMedAc, MISCP
Simon holds a Master of Science Degree in Physiotherapy and is a member of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists. A post graduate Diploma in Medical Acupuncture entitles him to accredited membership of the British Medical Acupuncture Society. Simon specialises in the integration of medical acupuncture techniques with manual therapy and therapeutic exercise for the treatment of musculo-skeletal pain and dysfunction.

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