A Barefoot Running Injury Epidemic?

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Here is a new article talking about The Barefoot Running Injury Epidemic. The author notes

Darwin Fogt, PT, owner of Evolution Physical Therapy in Culver City, CA, is alarmed by a stark new trend at his facility: runners with injuries caused by barefoot (or virtually barefoot) running. Fogt says he has four or five current patients with heel injuries clearly resulting from a switch to barefoot running and has recently treated another 12 to 15 others.

These injuries are happening both for real and fake barefoot runners. (Yeah, I’m using “fake” to gently tweak those who call running in shoes such as Vibrams “barefoot”.) The article does wonder whether the increase is due solely to the increase in barefoot running, due to books such as Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. If all runners are getting injured at the same rate, but there are more barefoot runners now, one would expect there to be more injured barefoot runners.

But I suspect that there is more going on. Others, such as Ken Bob Saxton, note that if you try to start minimalist running in things like Vibrams, you will not be getting good feedback from your soles, which can tell you when you are overdoing it. How the heck are the runners being discussed getting specifically heel injuries? About the only way to do that is to run barefoot as if you are still wearing shoes.

There is something else, too. If you just go right out and try to run barefoot after having encased your feet in shoes for 20-50 years, you should expect the internal muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to look just as pasty as the outsides of your feet. It is well known that you have to use your body to strengthen it. Shoes are crutches; shoes are support. When you take your feet out of shoes, they will be weak. Incredibly weak.

It’s like taking your leg out of a cast. You wouldn’t expect to be able to do weightlifting or sprinting, yet people take their feet out of shoes and expect to immediately be able to run just like they did with their support. Instead, you really do have to work up to it. Just as when you get a cast off, you have to undergo rehabilitation in order to regain strength and the underlying supportive tissue, so too do your feet need similar rehab.

You also need to retrain your brain. If you run in shoes, you’ve learned a specific way to run in them. That won’t necessarily work when you run barefoot. If you had started as a kid, you would have slowly and methodically worked out the right technique, but if you take your adult technique and try to retrofit it to barefoot running, it’s no wonder things don’t necessarily work right.

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2 Responses to “A Barefoot Running Injury Epidemic?”

  1. Skyalmian Says:

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    There is something else, too. If you just go right out and try to run barefoot after having encased your feet in shoes for 20-50 years, you should expect the internal muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to look just as pasty as the outsides of your feet. It is well known that you have to use your body to strengthen it. Shoes are crutches; shoes are support. When you take your feet out of shoes, they will be weak. Incredibly weak.
    [/]

    No kidding! I’ve started meandering around barefoot again (third week now) for the first time since the middle/high school days (/26), and one night after tagging along with a coworker to his house, on the way back I decided to run at top speed. Nevermind that I found myself running exponentially faster than I can in shoes (jeez that was insane…), but that there were leg muscles that seemed to have never been used before that hurt like hell afterward, in addition to sore parts of the feet.

    It hasn’t taken too long to relearn walking / running normally, though (used to do so all the time during feducation years). I now do so in shoes, and naturally that conflicts with wearing them.

  2. Terry Says:

    I believe that the author and people interviewed simply do not understand that “barefoot” means that your feet are bare. Semantics like that are tough for some folks and anybody who thinks that wearing a shoe is barefoot may also believe that a good number of people have “biomechanically disadvantaged feet”.

    I would venture a guess that the people interviewed are, in fact, treating very few people who are actually running barefoot and none who have really built up their mileage in a sensible manner before wearing what is deemed minimalist footwear for whatever reason. Going in the other direction (i.e. VFFs et al. before barefoot) would indeed, in my opinion be a recipe for disaster for many people.

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