Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Barefoot Running: Part 1

Ever since the release of the book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, I am asked more and more by my patients if barefoot running would benefit their current orthopedic complaints.  This book by Christopher McDougall explains the running style and philosophy of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyons. So why should we run barefoot? 
DISCLAIMER: Before I even get started on this subject in no way am I telling anyone to go out and run barefoot tomorrow.  There is still extensive research that is being conducted in this area and before we fully understand the biomechanics of running without shoes; any use of the technique should be used with extreme caution.  YOU SHOULD VISIT YOUR PRIMARY PHYSICIAN AND/OR PHYSICAL THERAPIST FOR A COMPLETE GAIT ANALYSIS AND GET ANY MEDICAL CONDITIONS CLEARED BEFORE ATTEMPTING A NEW EXERCISE TECHNIQUE. 
The main focus of barefoot running is that we as humans have been running since the beginning of time; whether it was away from danger, towards a moving target for food consumption, or for fitness alone.   Before the 1960’s running was completed with minimal to no footwear.  Our current data is slim but we do know that approximately 30% of all runners get hurt each year—an astonishing number.Current and further research is in the works to compare running with and without footwear. 
In the days before running shoes humans would run with a “Midfoot strike” where their whole foot would essentially hit the ground at one point with the ball of the foot often striking the ground before the heel.  Modern shoe wear has conditioned us to land on the heel first while constricting normal foot movements such as supination and pronation.  We can understand where shoe makers are coming from; they have added a nice big cushioned heel and have given us support throughout the foot.  Both of these additions to shoes help distribute forces throughout the foot.  It allows landing on the heel to be a comfortable experience and limits excessive pronation or flattening of the foot.  These modern additions to shoe wear lead the athlete to “prefer” to land on the heel secondary to the cushioned feeling.  The problem is that there is some anecdotal evidence that this constant heel strike causes increased ground reaction forces leading to common running injuries such as ankle sprains, shin splints, and patellofemoral (knee cap) pain.
Since modern shoe wear might be contributing to common overuse injuries and since humans have been running for 1000s of years without shoes, current research is investigating the use of barefoot running as a common training protocol.
Be sure to come back and check out the next installment as we will introduce some ways the common runner can begin a barefoot running regimen.  Until then keep those shoes on….
1. http://www.barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/1WhyConsiderFootStrike.html

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