Is Barefoot Running Safe?

These five-finger shoes are great for the beach but not for barefoot runningAs I was scrolling through news alerts on my computer the other day, I came across an article on Michael Sandler, the author of “Barefoot Running.” If you haven’t heard of him, he’s a former inline skater who shattered his left leg, forcing him to retire from the sport. After that injury, he became the poster-child for barefoot running, writing a book, starting a club and even opening a “barefoot wellness school to help people heal injuries, get active again, reconnect with Mother Earth, and discover a healthier lifestyle.”

Now, the reason Sandler was in the news was because, against all odds, he had suffered yet another devastating leg break, this time completely shattering his right leg. While he didn’t get hurt during a barefoot run, reading about his sport of choice made me wonder: can he really think this is a good idea?

Even with supportive footwear, people who run regularly are at risk for running injuries like stress fractures, shin splints and more. So what happens when you take away all of the padding and support of a shoe in order to run barefoot?

A study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal answered that question for me: over the course of 10-weeks, 10 of 19 runners who ran in Vibram FiveFingers (gloves for your feet, a brand of footwear favored by barefoot runners) showed signs of foot bone injury; in contrast, only one of 17 runners wearing traditional footwear incurred bone injuries from their runs.

With all due respect to Mr. Sandler, to whom I wish a speedy recovery, that rate of injury does not suggest that barefoot running will promote a “healthier lifestyle”—it’s pretty hard to “get active” again if you have an injured foot bone!

As a physician, I fully support people in their search for new and different ways to stay fit. As a Houston podiatrist, however, I urge you to take care of your feet and avoid activities that put undue stress on these delicate appendages. Exercise wisely to avoid injury and, at the first sign of foot pain, schedule an appointment at Tanglewood Foot Specialists so you can safely heal injuries and get active again. 

Dr. Andrew Schneider
Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.
2 Comments
Manny, Don't know anyone specifically in Manhattan Beach but check out www.elmontefootdoc.com and www.footnankledoc.com for excellent docs in the area.
by Dr. Schneider August 9, 2013 at 06:59 PM
I am a barefoot soft sand runner. I have something that looks like a wart between my big toe that has been giving be problems for the last 6 months because I continue to run. My question for you, do you have anyone around Manhattan Beach, CA that specializes in barefoot runners.
by Manny Sousa August 9, 2013 at 06:40 PM
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