Drew Heideman PT, ATC
A common perception is that running on hard surfaces such as pavement or concrete causes injuries such a hip pain, plantar fasciitis, and runner’s knee. Because of this, many athletes have recently turned to barefoot running or minimalist running shoes in an attempt to change their running mechanics. Barefoot running, or running in minimalistic shoes tends to change a runners’ mechanics causing him or her to land more towards the mid and forefoot. Forefoot and some midfoot strikers hit the ground in a way that generates minimal impact forces with the ground even on hard surfaces like pavement or the sidewalk.
When considering minimalist shoes there are a few things that runners should look for. The thickness of the cushioning in the heel and toe box of the shoe should be about the same, and not too cushioned. They should be able to be easily twisted along the long axis and the shoe should bend back on itself easily. There should not be a stiff arch support that prevents the natural movement of the arch of the foot. There are several brands of barefoot running shoes currently on the market. The physical therapists at Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute Rehabilitation can give you recommendations of local retailers who sell these types of shoes.
Switching to a barefoot running style or to minimalistic shoes should be done with caution in order to prevent injury and/or swollen feet. It is very important that you follow a slow progression when you transition to this type of running. Even with a conservative program, runners likely experience some muscle soreness in your calf muscles, the Achilles tendon, or pain in the feet. Because of this, anyone who has a previous history of Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis or metatarsalgia should proceed with extreme caution. If you have any foot-related or ankle-related problems, you should seek the advice of one of our orthopedic physicians or medical professionals before you start barefoot running.