Barefoot is best

In this post Osteopath Peter Horobin explains the reasons why being barefoot while walking/running is best:

1) Strengthening of intrinsic foot musculature

Being barefoot results in activation of the small intrinsic muscles of your feet; thus making them stronger. Wearing fixed trainers causes these small muscles to become weak – therefore increasing the likelihood of injury and pronation (flat feet). Barefoot training strengthens foot musculature thereby reducing the likelihood of such problems occurring.

2) Enhanced proprioception

There are 200, 000 sensory nerve endings in your foot – more than anywhere else in the body. Being barefoot increases foot proprioception (the body’s awareness of a joint within space); enabling greater neuronal feedback to the brain. This results in better awareness of foot position, enhanced balance and a more effective gate (walking technique).

3) Reduced risk of injury

Increased awareness of your feet also reduces the risk of ankle sprain. For example, being barefoot has been shown to reduce the risk of spraining the sub-talar (ankle) joint during a stumble (Stacoff et al, 1996).
Whilst running barefoot, runners compensate for a lack of cushioning by plantar-flexing the foot at contact thus making for a softer landing (Frederick, 1986). They also land more mid to fore-foot (Lieberman et al, 2010) than the conventional heel strike derived from wearing trainers.
A mid-foot strike results in the activation of the intrinsic muscles in the feet (which offer support to the foot), thereby increasing their strength and possibly reducing the risk of injury (Yessis 2000, p.124). In fact, it has been suggested that barefoot running has half the rate of injuries as heel-strike running (Daoud et al, 2012).

Vibram fivefingers are a stlye of footwear that allow an individual to run barefooted without the concern of injury to the sole of the foot, essentially allowing us to run naturally without the modern day complications. Here is a PDF file from their website to teach you how to adapt your running style so that you can transition to barefoot running smoothly.

A big thanks to Peter, original link: Peter Horobin Osteopathy

A word of caution to avoid injury

My professional recommendation would be not to change directly from a trainer or orthotic to a barefoot shoe as injuries can occur, there are transitional shoes available to help. However what I would recommend is trying what is called barefoot science, barefoot science is a new type of insert designed to challenge the mid foot. The mid foot is made up of lots of bones that can get very stiff due to us wearing trainers and shoes and not challenging our feet with unstable surfaces on a regular occasion. Barefoot science inserts make the foot have to decide where the force has to be distributed, therefore causing an increase in movement at the region where it is most necessary. This will, in effect, get the foot moving correctly again and lead to a decrease in lower limb related compensations and therefore injuries. These are the best option when it comes to having to wear normal footwear day in day out while transitioning your running to barefoot. They are readily available as the 5 step multi-purpose in sole on Amazon in both the UK and in the USA. This along with simple intrinsic foot strengthening exercises such as picking up marbles and putting them in a cup with your toes and ‘Janda’s small foot exercise’ are a great way to help prevent injury from the transition into barefoot running. Do not dive straight into barefoot running as the consequences can be dire, transitions slowly and make sure your intrinsic foot musculature is nice and strong, keep your posterior chain loose (calves, soleus, hamstrings) and may be worth having your gait checked out by a good movement specialist. Consider it an injury prevention screening ;-).

References:
Daoud AI, Geissler GJ, Wang F, Saretsky J, Daoud YA, Lieberman D. (2012). Foot strike and injury rates in endurance runners: a retrospective study. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 44(7), 1325-34.
Frederick EC (1986). Kinematically mediated effects of sports shoe design: a review. Journal of Sports Sciences 4, 169-184
Stacoff A, Steger J, Stussi E, Reinschmidt C (1996). Lateral stability in sideward cutting movements. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 28, 350-358
Lieberman DE, Venkadesan M, Werbel WA, Daoud AI, D’Andrea S, Davis IS, Mang’eni RO, Pitsiladis Y. (2010) Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature 463: 531-5.
Yessis M (2000). Explosive running. Illinois, USA. Contemporary Books

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