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Barefoot vs. Shod Running

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Kelley Anderson, DO

There are pros and cons to running both barefoot and shod, shod meaning running with a shoe.  For barefoot running one of the pros is that you strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the foot and the ankle in addition to the natural arch of the foot.  Also barefoot running requires less energy.  A con though would be that you are exposed to the uncertain terrain and can damage soft tissues to the foot itself. On the other hand, if you run shod or with shoe you have the protection of the shoe from that terrain.  One of the cons however of shod running is that there are larger impact forces when your heel strikes the ground that’s distributed up into the knees, the hips and the low back that can cause overuse injuries. 

Barefoot Running Transition

Anybody can try barefoot running but it’s not for everyone.  First and foremost you need to take care of your previous injuries before making that transition.  Also if you are afraid to go completely barefoot you can always try the minimalist or finger shoes.  Also we’ve noticed that the younger athletes tolerate the transition a little bit easier from shod to barefoot, they tend to heal a little bit faster and make those changes easier.  

Slow and Steady

If you choose to make the transition from shod to barefoot running it must be slow and steady.  First start out by walking around barefoot for about 2 weeks, then start running in place and slowly transition into smooth flat surfaces. You can then increase your mileage and increase your speed again slow and steady, but no more than 10% in distance per week.  The important thing is to listen to your body. If you are in pain you are doing too much too fast. 

Commitment to Runners

UPMC is committed to the running community.  We host training sessions, have nutrition services and offer gait analysis and our physicians are experts in taking care of runners of all skill levels from the weekend warrior to the marathon runners with and without shoes.