Hamilton Physiotherapy Barefoot Running – Fad or a Running Revolution!

At the recent 2012 Sport Medicine Symposium Dr. Renata Frankovich, President Elect of the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine presented a a lecture of this title.  The following is an excerpt from the journal OMR – Ontario Medical Review from June 2012.  Volume 79, Number 6, Page 26.

Dr. Frankovich indicates that there are no studies to support elevated cushioned heel and pronation control systems to reduce reduce injuries in distance runners.  She said that there is no strong evidence that shoes, inserts and orthotics realign biomechanics and prevent injury.  She reported that running shoes alter gait biomechanics to promote heel strike pattern, reduce intrinsic impact moderating behaviours, reduce strike frequency, and change the contraction sequence of muscles – and this results in inefficient running form.  Dr. Frankovich added that running barefoot alters biomechanics in a potentially beneficial way with respect to running form.  However, as a caution, runners with a predisposition to calf or achilles problems and for those who continue to heel strike when barefoot, there may be higher risk for injury.

(1) Lieberman DE, Venkadesan M, Werbel WA, Daoud AI, D’Andrea S, Davis IS, Mang’eni RO, Pitsiladis Y.  Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot vs. shod runners.  Nature. 2010 Jan 28; 463(7280): 531-5

A study by Lieberman, et al (1) shows being barefoot and landing on the forefoot reduces both the loading rate and the peak impact force.  Heel strikers wearing shoes have three times the loading rate and peak impact forces than barefoot runners.  Dr. Frankovich believes that higher impact forces and loading rates equals greater risk, but this has not been proven.  She adds that many have interpreted the findings of the Lieberman, et al study to suggest that running barefoot or minimally shod is better to avoid injury.  What this study does not answer is if barefoot runners or forefoot strikers have lower injury rates.

More research in this area is required and may indicate that barefoot runners or forefoot strikers simply have different injuries.  Currently it appears that barefoot running reduces impact forces and loading rates; however, it has not been proven to reduce injuries.