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Barefoot running FAQs

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Running and jogging can be a good way to keep fit, but what about barefoot running?

Some people believe running in today's modern trainers leads to unnatural running techniques and believe barefoot running can actually reduce injuries.

However, barefoot running isn’t for everyone - including people with diabetes who should avoid foot injuries and complications of cuts and grazes.

Barefoot performance

One organisation promoting running without shoes is the Barefoot Performance Academy at Battersea in London.

Course director Rollo Mahon says: "So many of us walk and run incorrectly, putting pressure on our movement patterns and creating injury and friction within the body."

Rollo says barefoot athletes can unleash their true potential on the track.

The theory is that body’s nervous system senses running better without trainers.

Stretching and pressure receptors in the feet allow the body to sense its position better. That feedback is said to help improve movement and balance.

Part of barefoot running technique is about starting to change from the heel striking the ground to the fore foot touching the ground first.

Running barefoot is about rolling back evolution, hanging up shoes and using the techniques our ancestors used tens of thousands of years ago before shoes were invented and running was essential for hunting and avoiding being hunted.

Scientific evidence

In 2013, University of Cape Town researchers writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine set out to discover the facts about barefoot running by analysing up to date evidence published about it.

They found that literature looking at the mechanical, structural, clinical, and performance implications of barefoot running is still in its infancy.

They say long-term studies still need to be carried out to prove the claimed benefits of barefoot running and of reducing injury. Currently, they say the link to better performance is "tenuous and speculative".

Another complication, they say, is that there are many different types of running injury, which makes it harder to compare trainers against bare feet.

There was some evidence that starting to run barefoot can cause more injuries than running in trainers. That could mean that barefoot running benefits are only felt after the body gets used to the new technique. On balance though, there was no current solid evidence of barefoot running improving performance.

Barefoot running or trainers?

Based on the available evidence, the choice has to be a personal decision after weighing up the risks and benefits.

The choice of running surface and risk to the feet from stones, thorns and broken glass is a factor to consider.

It may help to start with specialist barefoot running training rather than just taking off shoes and socks and trying it yourself.

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Reviewed on August 24, 2017

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