Barefoot running and popular misconceptions

Sep 21, 2020

Barefoot or minimalist running is popular these days and comes with many misconceptions about its safety.  It may work for a few in certain situations but certainly does not apply to the majority.


Evolution has hit a serious “road block” that our modern day foot cannot overcome by itself - the hard,  flat surfaces that we have created all over the world.  If one looks at how we have evolved, earlier hominids developed their feet over much softer, uneven surfaces. If this were still the case today, then maybe the ideology of barefoot running could be helpful.


Unfortunately, now even our grass fields are flattened and hardened for sports along with our concrete footpaths and asphalt or bitumen roads.  A significant portion of runners use these surfaces as their running track.  Barefoot running only leads to injury for the majority of people by increasing stress on our bones, joints and soft tissues.  


Podiatrists see many running injuries related to poor shock attenuation from minimal running shoes.  The majority of these injuries could have been prevented simply by running in a shoe designed to provide the appropriate cushioning and shock absorption.


Barefoot running also affects overall foot function, adding to the list of injuries it causes.  These injuries can often be compounded by underlying biomechanical risk that most runners are unaware of.  


There are many factors that increase risk but two we commonly see are joint instability/hypermobility and muscular tightness.  


  • Joint instability and hypermobility often lead to an increase in joint problems, muscular overuse and tightness.  
  • Muscular tightness results in reduced range of motion that often leads to increased pressure and loading on our bodies.


Identifying these risk factors, and numerous others, is best left to your podiatrist to evaluate and advise on how they might affect you.


In short, barefoot running is simply not a good idea for the majority due to our running environment and biomechanics.

The minority it might be suitable for have a long list of prerequisites to meet, including very drawn out training regimes aimed at building resistance to the increase in stress applied to the body.  You should never start barefoot running without first seeking out a proper assessment and advice from your health care professional.