By: The Wellington Team | Published: April 17, 2013
Barefoot running is the latest craze to hit the streets and whether you are an advocate or a sceptic, the subject is hard to ignore. The Foot & Ankle Unit at The Wellington Hospital discuss this latest innovation.
As Consultant Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Surgeons, we are frequently asked our opinion on the subject of footwear, both by patients and the media. With the London Marathon looming it seems an opportune moment pick up on this variety of running apparel, to give some pointers and to summarise the evidence as we see it.
Proponents of barefoot running will tell you that that it feels more natural, you can run faster and there is a lower injury rate because the ‘heel strike’ is minimised as runners land on their toes or mid-foot.
Sceptics will tell that running barefoot leads to much higher forces across the joints, that injury rates are higher and that running shod offers shock absorption, with much more protection from ground debris such as glass or nails and offers insulation in cold weather.
OK so let’s explore the facts. There have been a multitude of studies published on the subject, some showing that barefoot running leads to:
- Altered strike patterns
- Reduced oxygen consumption (a marker for energy expended)
- Reduced stride length
- Increased stride frequency
Other studies have refuted these findings and shown that experienced runners who take up bare foot running have a significantly higher rate of stress injury to their foot bones, certainly up to the end of the 10 week study. In general many of the studies have been of low quality and are often complicated by the fact that shoe manufacturers sponsor the studies (and hence stand to gain). Indeed in Minneapolis, a class action suit has been filed against Vibram USA Inc, driven by plaintiff Valerie Bezdek, proposing that the shoe manufactures marketing claims are deceptive and harmful.
Outcome measures are important to the way we work at the Wellington Foot and Ankle Unit, we measure and record all of our patient injuries. Anecdotally, we are seeing an increase in problems with the Achilles and other tendons that we think are probably related to increased stresses arising in the tendon due to the change in running gait observed in barefoot running when compared to shod running.
So what is our advice?
- Consider your decision to take up barefoot running with great care.
- Seek advice of a qualified physiotherapist or barefoot running coach before starting.
- Adapt and build up gradually, running a maximum of 2-3 times a week and not every day.
- If you get pain, stop, don’t run through it and seek medical advice if it persists.
So run in shoes or barefoot? Its your call, but remember the story of the Emperor and his new clothes. Enjoy the London Marathon and run safely.
The Foot & Ankle Unit at The Wellington Hospital are a group of Orthopaedic Surgeons, who work in collaberation to provide patients with access to rapid diagnosis and treatment of foot and ankle problems. The team includes Mr Nicholas Cullen, Mr Andrew Goldberg, Mr Mark Herron & Mr Simon Moyes. www.wellingtonfootandankleunit.com