Barefoot Running: Risks and Precautions - Dr. Jeffrey E McAlister
Dr. Jeffrey E McAlister / Foot Injuries  / Barefoot Running: Risks and Precautions
barefoot running

Barefoot Running: Risks and Precautions

Running barefoot is a trend becoming increasingly popular among the running community. Advocates of barefoot running claim that it allows them to have short strides and helps them land on the top or middle part of their feet. They claim that this decreases the severity of their foot’s impact on the ground, resulting in fewer foot and ankle injuries. Although barefoot running may be linked to slightly better performance, there is still a lack of evidence proving that less running injuries occur while running barefoot than running with properly-fitting tennis shoes.

As a local triathlete and marathon runner, Dr. Jeffrey McAlister, has some thoughts on the “minimalist” running trend based on what he’s seen in his practice. He doesn’t advise that his patients run barefoot and instead advises the opposite – running in properly-fitted tennis shoes with custom orthotic inserts. However, for those considering running sans shoes, here are some risks and precautions.

What are the Risks Associated with Running Barefoot?

Switching from running with shoes on to running barefoot can produce quite a shock to your feet. That’s why advocates recommend transitioning slowly to allow your feet time to adapt. However, that’s not the only concern or risk that comes with opting to run barefoot. Running barefoot places you at increased risks for:

  • Foot and ankle injuries caused by road debris. Shoes offer a significant amount of protection against injuries caused by different types of road debris. Some of which include glass, thorns, cactus (especially here in Arizona!), rocks and nails. Therefore, you must know that running without shoes increases your chances of sustaining foot and ankle injuries caused by these items.
  • Plantar fasciitis or heel pain. By choosing to run without tennis shoes that have a stiff, supportive heel, you’re increasing your chances of experiencing heel pain or pain in your plantar fascia (the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes). If you’re already at increased risk of developing plantar fasciitis, running barefoot may, in fact, cause you to develop it. We’ve written a blog with a regenerative medicine treatment for plantar fasciitis that you may want to check out if you’re experiencing this condition.
  • Until your feet become adjusted to running barefoot and develop calluses, you’ll likely initially experience several painful blisters. If these blisters are not cared for and treated properly, there’s a chance they could become infected.

What Precautions Should be Taken When Running Barefoot?

To reduce your chances of sustaining a foot or ankle injury, follow these precautions:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Try your best to avoid tripping or running into road debris to prevent getting injured.
  • Don’t run barefoot too much too soon.Gradually introduce your feet to running barefoot. To do this, gradually increase the distance you run each week by 10% until you’ve reached your desired distance.
  • Seek medical help if needed.If you experience more than painful blisters or aching arches of the feet, consult a foot and ankle doctor.
  • Be careful with the way you land on your feet. Always try to lead with the top or middle part of your foot when landing on the ground. This can help avoid injuries to the heel.

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