In 2009, footwear company Vibram released a minimalist running shoe called ‘’Five Fingers’’ which is a glove-like fitting shoe with separate grooves for each toe providing minimal support or cushioning. The shoe claimed to improve running by stabilising and strengthening foot muscles for better performance. This was suddenly the next best thing in the ‘’barefoot’’ running craze.
In 2012 a class action lawsuit alleged that Vibram’s claims about strength and performance had no proven scientific basis. In a recent article in Runners World it was reported that Vibram has agreed to settle the class-action lawsuit for $3.75 million, but does not admit any wrongdoing. The settlement does stipulate that Vibram can no longer make claims that the Five Finger shoes strengthen muscles or prevent injury-unless they have scientific evidence to proving it. They have also agreed to refund consumers whom have purchased the shoes.
What do we know in regards to barefoot / minimalist running?
Not a lot scientifically.
The idea of barefoot running is to allow the foot to function in its natural form allowing the body to achieve better proprioceptive feedback. This allows the body to have more awareness on what each body part is doing at any time. This in theory is supposed to make the body stronger and fitter which minimises potential for injury. However, there is little research to actually support this theory.
Running is a very high impact and complex activity which many of us just undertake recreationally and therefore have little training as far as proper technique and loading go. In the western world we have been used to running and walking in shoes with lots of advanced technology, support and cushioning and therefore our feet are not conditioned to the barefoot way.
It is thought that those who run barefoot, or in minimal footwear, tend to avoid striking with their heel and instead land on the ball of the foot or the middle of the foot. These runners use the natural architecture of the foot and leg to avoid painful jarring or the body. Again there is no binding evidence to support this.
Running shoes are now designed to assist individuals who need biomechanical control to go for a run whilst reducing the risk of injury. Clinically, it has been shown that those who need help biomechanically can benefit from a more supportive shoe, which can reduce their risk of injury and allow them to run unrestricted.
Is Barefoot Running for me?
If you are serious about trying some barefoot running it is highly recommended you seek professional advice from a podiatrist to have your biomechanics and gait pattern assessed.
It is not recommended that you just set off for a run unsupported straight away. If you already experience foot or leg pain or injuries then barefoot running may not be for you. Running unsupported can lead to serious injury without the right advice and training.
Barefoot running requires a slow transition from regular supportive running and isn’t for everyone. For another article on barefoot running please click here.
If you would like your gait assessed by one of our Melbourne podiatrists please call the clinic today to make an appointment.