Is it healthier to run minimalist or just the path to greater foot pain?
The source of increasing debate and controversy, today’s trend towards running barefoot is one of the biggest hot button issues in modern podiatry. Minimalist or “barefoot” running shoes are popping up everywhere, and they’re pretty easy to spot if you haven’t noticed them yet—they’re the ones that look like foot gloves, with individual spaces for each of your toes.
Barefoot proponents argue that going minimal allows your body’s mechanics to operate as they were designed by ditching unnecessary padding and support, but detractors say it may increase your chance of injury. Is barefoot running safe, or do we need that extra cushioning to ward off problems like plantar fasciitis and leg pain?
A Better Form
Obviously, humans have been running since long before shoes were invented. Barefoot enthusiasts claim that going minimal actually gives you a much healthier and more natural running form than your typical athletic shoe by changing the way your foot hits the ground. Many runners in traditional shoes have a tendency to land hard on their heels, increasing the shock that travels to their feet and legs.
Despite the extra padding, this can lead to joint and foot pain, causing many runners to correct their form by landing on the balls of their feet. Barefoot and minimalist running encourage this practice, while also reducing the amount of weight your feet are carrying, which proponents say makes for more efficient, faster running.
Though running has been around since the dawn of man, running barefoot isn’t necessarily so easy a caveman can do it. Regardless of the benefit to form, even barefoot enthusiasts caution that the practice must be eased into, to allow time for the development of foot and leg muscles that have been neglected in the traditional running form. Running barefoot or in minimalist shoes also reduces the amount of padding between your feet and the ground, making it possible to sustain injury due to hazardous terrain (you’ll definitely feel it if you step on a sharp rock) or increased strain on the bones.
Plantar fasciitis, which causes pain and inflammation in the thick band of tissue known as the plantar fascia that runs across the bottom of the foot, frequently results from poor support or irregular arches. This means that if you have very high or very flat arches, running in minimalist shoes will put more strain on the structures of your feet, including the plantar fascia, and may put you at a higher risk for developing this painful problem.
There isn’t any direct proof that barefoot running leads to issues like plantar fasciitis, but if you have preexisting foot or ankle issues, you may want to avoid going minimalist to keep from exacerbating those problems. As the debate rages on, your best bet is to speak to your Dr. Schoenhaus before trying barefoot running to see if it’s a safe choice for you.