One of the latest crazes to hit the running scene is this idea of barefoot running – the concept that we should be getting back to nature, back to our roots. Running with the wind between our toes and leaving the shoes at home. We weren’t born with footwear so why should we be wearing it when we are running? It is argued that it is not “natural” to wear shoes and therefore not ideal.
While it is rational to believe that our bodies were designed in a specific way to function most effectively in a similarly specific environment. It is also logical to assume that as the environment changes we are also required to adapt to match and function within that environment as efficiently as possible.
It follows therefore that the world in which we live today is vastly different to that of our ancestors. The industrial revolution has taken over our environment and forced us out (for the better part) from walking on soft and uneven sand and grass towards the hard and flat concrete and tiles. We are living in a concrete jungle. So-called “safe” hard flat footpaths greet us everywhere we walk and when we leave those foot paths we find ourselves on similarly flat hard surfaces in our houses and buildings. The only real exception to this being carpeted surfaces which even still, offer a very consistent and stable surface in spite of being cushioned.
As the environment has changed drastically, so has the footwear humanity has utilized. From previously wearing a piece of leather strapped to the bottom of the foot to prevent stone bruising to now wearing activity specialised, stabilized, cushioned and arch contouring engineering masterpieces that just about do the running for us!
The question therefore that begs asking is; has the change and footwear adaption process been beneficial or problematic? It is arguable either way. On one hand, there are benefits to having safe environments that reduce our risk of tripping and subsequent injuries. There are also undeniable benefits to wearing shoes on functional efficiency and protection for walking and running. Conversely however, these new environments and adapted footwear styles encourage the development of sedentary habits in the inner workings of our feet. In other words, the muscles and joints – and the nerves that control these – have the potential to become lazy and adapt to having “the work” done for them. The foot habitually learns how to adequately predict the surface it will contact and therefore loses some of its innate ability to adapt to an unpredictable surface (proprioception) on contact and push-off.
The other thing to consider is that skin becomes harder when it is stressed and pressured – think of using a shovel to dig a hole. For the first time you can expect blisters and potentially some skin damage – but over time you will develop callouses which protect your skin from these types of injuries. This is the same with your feet. If you are not stressing the skin in a healthy way to adapt to rough surfaces (i.e. you are wearing footwear all the time) and then you attempt to run without footwear – you can expect an overload of micro stress on the skin and a higher potential for blisters and skin damage.
So, if you have been walking and running on predictable surfaces and wearing shoes most of your life and you are about to attempt running without them, it is worth moving towards running on more natural surfaces of ground to reduce your risk of injury. It is also certainly worth considering some preparatory training.
Here at Riverside Podiatry we can guide you through specialised strengthening for your feet so you are better able to adapt to the new environment and footwear (or lack thereof) and get you back to the way nature intended it to be…
If you would like more information about our services and bare foot running training, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 4323 9100. Otherwise you can book your appointment online (just click the red BOOK ONLINE)