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Pros and Cons of Barefoot Running

Barefoot running is a new craze amongst many runners. Even though this fad is not backed up by sufficient scientific evidence, many shoeless runners swear by its benefits.
There are two sets of people having different views on barefoot running. One group claims it to be beneficial for health, whereas the other group believes exactly the opposite. Some researchers have taken up this topic to establish an inference, but more studies are required to be carried out to come to any conclusion.
People who like to run barefoot, like Christopher McDougall, who is the author of bestseller 'Born to Run', says that running without shoes improves stride and prevents several back, knee and ankle problems.
People who are against it say that this practice can, in turn, lead to many health problems. Let us see what experts have to say about the positives and negatives of shoeless running.

Pros of Running Barefoot

  • Research was conducted to study running efficiency in shoeless runners and those wearing shoes. It was found that shoeless runners had a 4% higher running efficiency than runners wearing shoes.
  • There is a steady development of gait which gradually helps in strengthening and toning up the foot muscles, ligaments and tendons.
  • Padding in shoes is the reason why runners land on the heel. Naturally, a person would land on the mid-region or front portion of the foot when running without shoes. 
  • Landing on the back portion first subjects the body to a higher force of impact as compared to landing on the forefoot. This results in increased torque at the joints of the hip, knee and ankles, thus straining them with high impact force.
  • Around 30% runners suffer from injuries per year. These injuries occur because of tightening of tissues. Discarding running shoes stretches tendons and muscles of the legs, thus reducing the occurrence of these injuries.
  • The small muscles of the leg, feet and hip region get activated, resulting in improved balance and a heightened sense of position, location, orientation and movement of various parts of the body.
  • Stepping barefoot helps in spreading the toes with every stride, and makes the person feel more connected with the environment.
  • The activity is enjoyable when practiced with a gradual approach, and as long as the ground is scanned while running.
  • It helps in reducing undesired impact on the environment which is caused due to resource usage and manufacturing of running shoes.

Cons of Running Barefoot

  • People who run barefoot are prone to get injured by stones, debris, nails, glass pieces, rocks, etc., that are often scattered on roads.
  • People who do not have the habit of shoeless running initially feel pain and discomfort as the foot muscles are not used to being overworked. Sudden shedding of shoes is a shock to the feet which need time to recover.
  • Plantar fascia is the thick tissue which forms the bottom of a foot. Normally, this tissue is soft, supple and tender in nature. Moving out on tracks without protection in the form of shoes may lead to the development of pain, which may further worsen to plantar fasciitis or inflammation of the plantar tissue.
  • The initial period, when the feet are not accustomed to this form of running, is characterized by the formation of blisters on the lower surface of the feet. As time goes by, thick and hard skin is gradually formed due to continual friction generated due to running.
  • Some experts also believe that if a person is not facing any problem after running with athletic shoes, there should not be a need for switching to shoeless running which would cause blisters and pain during the initial period.
  • There is an increased risk of contracting infection due to cracks and blisters that are formed when running without shoes.
  • Not many people are used to watching somebody run barefoot on the tracks. People are bound to notice and stare mischievously.
Nowadays, minimalist shoes are also a growing trend. These shoes provide the same effects as running without shoes, and also provide the required protection from debris.
Individuals who are interested in switching to barefoot running must keep one thing in mind, that this change must be a gradual process. Sudden excessive shoeless running will definitely cause injuries. It is therefore necessary to acclimatize the feet so that the runner does not experience any problems.
Having read the benefits and risks of shoeless running, one cannot simply come to any conclusion as these claims are not sufficiently supported with scientific data. At the end, deciding to run barefoot is a personal choice. It may or may not suit an individual. Therefore, it is better to think over it wisely and then decide what's best for oneself.