Shoes or not to Shoes… that is the Question

While it is unlikely that Shakespeare was ever concerned about the most effective footwear for running, modern man wants to know: what’s better – running with a classic pair of soles or going au naturel, pounding the pavement with bare feet?

The trend in minimalist footwear – lightweight “gloves” for the feet with no arch support that protect against shards of glass and hazards on the ground – has ignited a debate among avid runners and experts. Perhaps the footwear design and debate were truly sparked in 2009 when Chris McDougall, an American Author and health journalist, wrote his book Born to Run, which trailed the lives and astonishing running ability of an Indian tribe in the Mexican Copper Canyons. This tribe is known to effectively run distances in excess of 100 miles at incredible speeds in little more than sandals and without injury.  McDougall adapted this “barefoot” running style and proclaimed it cured his running injuries and ailments.

Although barefoot runners or those adorning the minimalist-style shoes are still in the minority, it has taken the running community by storm and inspired new runners. Many of whom attribute the barefoot craze to successfully completing some serious mileage. However, when chatted with orthopedic doctors and foot specialists around the country, the safety and efficacy of this all natural running style became questionable. Don’t toss your sneakers just yet.

Ultra marathoner, Ryan Carter, and avid runner, Greg Farris, both tried barefoot running only to discover on separate runs that they could not take one more step. After respective trips to the doctor, each man was diagnosed with a stress fracture.

One podiatrist, Paul Langer, out of Minnesota told that he used to see no more than one or two barefoot running injuries a month, now he is seeing three or four in a week. He said, “Most [runners] jump in a little too enthusiastically.”

Bob Baravarian, chief of podiatry at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California commented also commented to, “All of a sudden, the strain going through your foot is multiplied manifold and problems occur when people don’t ease into it.”

Experts and researchers are toiling over the issue. Running injuries affect 30 to 70 percent of runners each year –barefoot or not – and no one quite knows the perfect formula for prevention. Historically, running barefoot makes a lot of sense and around the globe many cultures function effectively without shoes.

And the debate continues, one group of experts believes, yes you can lose the laces and opt for a foot glove or no shoes at all, if you ease into it, while another group believes the risks outweigh the benefits.

Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist out of Harvard, has devoted his lab work to studying running form and the impact on injuries. He told that he believes form matters more than footwear or lack of – don’t overstride, have good posture and land gently.

In 2010, Lieberman began examining the impact of gait on injury.  He and his team discovered that a heavy heel strike can send a shock up the body – barefoot runners tend to have a more springy step. Of course, if you don’t have that spring, the risk of injury when running barefoot increases significantly, compared to the protection offered by sneakers.  Lieberman tells, “The long and the short of it is that we know very little about how to help all runners – barefoot and shod – prevent getting injured. Barefoot running is no panacea. Shoes aren’t either,”

As for Farris and Carter, both have recovered and returned to running, but both now lace on a pair of sneakers before pounding the pavement.


One comment

  1. […] the age of barefoot sneakers, Puma has designed a sneaker that can handle the twists and turns of indoor works, as well as […]

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