Barefoot running does not change the human mechanics of running. In that sense, barefoot running is healthy. The part of your foot that hits the ground with the most force is the lateral edge of your forefoot. Running with shoes on drastically changes this natural, mechanical alignment of your feet. With shoes on, the emphasis is instead shifted to the area at the back of the foot and the heel. Proponents of barefoot running, such as those from the barefoot movement, say that it lessens the chances of injury. On the other end of the argument are sports and medical organizations who are definitely against running barefoot. They always advise people to wear running shoes that are padded.
Benefits of Barefoot Running
One of the most popular benefits of barefoot running is the relief from chronic injuries. Enough people believe this that a good number of runners with chronic injuries have switched to barefoot running. The reason for this has to do with the way that the foot and leg are designed. In barefoot running, both the structure of the lower leg and the foot are excellent at absorbing the shocks of your feet. They are also excellent at redirecting the energy of each shock to forward motion; this happens due to the foot's natural arch and ensuing springing action.
When running shoes are worn, excess amounts of padding are placed underneath the heel. This causes the unnatural action of each foot landing on the heel rather than the ball of the foot, as with barefoot running. Because of the unnatural design of running shoes, the shock with each foot landing is directed up the heel to the knees and hips, potentially causing injury.
Studies on Barefoot Running
Proponents of barefoot running can point to certain studies to corroborate their assertion that this activity is healthy. In a recent study that was published in PM&R: The Journal of Injury, Function and Rehabilitation, the results emerged in favor of barefoot running over running with shoes on. The results showed that running with shoes on actually leads to almost 40 percent more stress on the knees than running barefoot. The study did not establish a link between higher stress on the knees and a higher rate of injury, but more stress on the knees when running is never favorable.
While it is not as popular as running with shoes, barefoot running has medical research on its side that suggests less chance of injury. Groups like the American Podiatric Medical Association do not endorse barefoot running. It does not discredit the studies that have favored barefoot running, yet it asserts that an insufficient amount of research has been done. The group's advice is that runners should consult with a podiatrist before taking up barefoot running. While some athletes with injuries are discovering that barefoot running is better for them, the research is still not definitive enough to say that barefoot running is better than running with shoes.