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May. 30 2010 - 8:11 am | 2,038 views | 1 recommendation | 15 comments

Running ‘Barefoot’ Might Increase Chance of Plantar Fasciitis

A woman wears Vibram "Five Fingers" ...

Image via Wikipedia

Plantar Fasciitis, a painful and enduring heel injury, is among the injuries medical professionals see an increase in from patients who say they are “barefoot” runners.

This report comes from Matt Fitzgerald at Competitor.com:

“I see one injury over and over in the barefoot runners who come to me,” says Fogt: “plantar fasciitis.” A painful and difficult-to-overcome heel injury, plantar fasciitis accounts for less than 15 percent of all running injuries. The fact that it accounts for more than 90 percent of injuries in the barefoot runners Fogt sees suggests that it is barefoot running specifically, not overuse generally, that is causing these injuries. Thus, unless barefoot running is concurrently drastically reducing the likelihood of knee pain and other common running overuse injuries, then its overall impact on running injury risk is probably an increasing effect. If this is indeed the case, then the barefoot running injury epidemic is an ironic reality, as barefoot running is overtly promoted as a way to reduce injury risk.

The barefoot running trend is unquestionably at its peak and the Vibram Five Fingers is the product of choice for loyalists looking achieve minimal running. It’s gained a significant following based in part on the book Born To Run, in which the author criticizes the running shoe industry for marketing overprotective shoes while celebrating the free motion our running ancestors enjoyed.

The trend has created a backlash from many in the running industry, including Fitzgerald, who earlier this month penned a comprehensive article on why barefoot running won’t improve performannce.

I work at a running store in New York that doesn’t carry Vibrams despite growing demand that would surely benefit our bottom-line business. The company’s philosophy – which is made clear by internal email blasts sent regularly by managers that refute the trend – is similar to Fitzgerald’s: Even in a very slight moderation, barefoot running puts runners at a high risk for injury.

This report shouldn’t come as a shocking revelation, but it does affirm what many barefoot critics have said for months.


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  1. collapse expand

    If you’re getting plantar fasciitis from running barefoot, you’re probably doing it wrong. You should never land with your heel if you’re barefoot. Switching to barefoot without making significant changes to your form is a huge mistake, and a common one. You have to lean forward, and use your entire foot to absorb the impact, or of course you’ll wind up with plantar fasciitis.

    I’d be more interested in injury rates among people who have good form and ease into barefoot running compared with joggers in normal running shoes.

    Obviously it’s not my business, but I wouldn’t bet it all on barefoot being a fad. Reading too much into studies like these is bad for business. Don’t want to get into wishful thinking, particularly at the expense of meeting your customers’ demand.

  2. collapse expand

    I think the article has the reverse effect on me. I don’t run anymore, but my last running was barefoot. The only way I can walk now is barefoot. However I have a joint disorder, my feet aren’t bad, but my knees and hips are difficult to keep aligned. They will only get worse especially if I don’t exercise.

    I need to walk more, but most of my walking is on sidewalks and that is abrading my soles too much. I may want to look into these shoes. But I’ve spent years with PTs dissecting how I walk and use my joints. I can make an informed choice once I test walk some.

    For anyone being competitive, matching form to your structure and safety is a must. My situation is not reflective of the general population. How good is training advice for the average amateur runner these days anyway?

  3. collapse expand

    They make the Kool-Aid strong at Vibram; people are culty about these shoes. These quite palpably hideous shoes; I’m proud that when you Google them, my article pops up very near the top of the listings.
    http://teenymanolo.com/2009/06/27/five-fingers-of-fug/

  4. collapse expand

    The truth is in the numbers. A well done study is really needed. I understand the idea that form has to change when you start running with these things. However, is it realistic to expect that people will run differently? Most people are not really patient enough to relearn their running form from square one. The study should be done with realistic methods. Super motivated runners with oodles of time and experts that teach them running form are not indicative of the general public who will buy these shoes..

    And also….

    they’re incredibly ugly.

  5. collapse expand

    My european cousins (and my mother) make fun of Americans for running on cement. Would these barefoot runners develop Plantar Fasciitis if they ran on a dirt path?

  6. collapse expand

    And, I thought those hideous Crocks were ugly! I’ve seen the infommercial for these things and it is painful to watch! How can people jump on this trend?

  7. collapse expand

    I suggest training with toe shoes prior to running barefoot. Dump the usual shoes and get your body back in shape – there are a few kinds of toe shoes out there to use to train to go barefootin’. I’ve tried Vibram Five Fingers, and now I moved on to Gist Originals that I found on http://www.gistwear.com. The 20% off promo code is still working – its at RetailMeNot. I’ve finally gotten the glutes looking the way I always wanted.

  8. collapse expand

    I’ve seen more and more folks barefoot or in these Vibrams when I run. Or should I say, I can hear them. The SLAP!-SLAP!-SLAP! of their feet on the pavement is loud enough to disturb my own running iPod fueled revelry. That does not sound good and could not possibly be good for one’s feet/ankles/joints. That sound? It is the sound of pain.

    • collapse expand

      When one hears the so-called “SLAP!SLAP!SLAP!” while someone is running with VFF/barefoot, they aren’t running with the correct form.

      When running how evolution meant us to run, it’s gentle and quiet—a light tap when one makes contact to the ground.

      Unfortunately, it will take awhile for an entire population to “re-learn” how to run without shoes.

      Here’s what many clod runners forget, not everyone has good running form with or without shoes. If you ever go to the local park and watch shoe-wearing runners they shuffle, they don’t pick up their knees, they land too far ahead of their body, they push off too much from behind, or they land to hard. When wearing shoes it’s more difficult for people to listen to their body and make the necessary corrections.

      It’s taken me a few months, but now I rune solely (pardon the pun!) barefoot or with VFFs. I not only run, but do parkour and martial arts as well. (See http://www.movnat.com)

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  9. collapse expand

    Before we go bashing the “barefoot runners” it would be beneficial to understand how plantar fasciitis occurs. Unfortunately, most people do not understand the kinetic chain very well. Proper knowledge and understanding of how the kinetic chain works (when everything in the kinetic chain is working properly) would clearly explain why injuries such as plantar fasciitis occur. Everything in the kinetic chain is dependent upon every other aspect of the kinetic chain; nerves, bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and joints above and/or below any given area. One hiccup in a small area can cause a waterfall effect of problems which alters the kinetic chain and results in “injuries” such as plantar faciitis.

    Due in part to its origin/insertion points, a majority of plantar fasciitis problem are more or less the matter of a muscular imbalance which is causing common over-use injuries, gait abnormalities and etc, and can lead to other serious problems. In the case of barefoot runners, they should be learning how to run on the balls of their feet (running on their toes) instead of allowing their heels to strike the ground. Running on your toes causes the calves to shorten. When the calves shorten, so does the Achilles tendon. Where does the Achilles tendon attach? The calcaneous (heel) what else attaches on the calcaneous? The plantar fascia! It sounds too simple to be the cause of this uncomfortable and extremely annoying injury, but maybe we as clinicians should be doing a better job of treating the problem instead of the symptoms. Guess what?… The location of symptoms are not always the location of problems.

    I would suggest that the barefoot runners who are experiencing plantar fasciitis are either not training properly by doing too much, too soon or simply forgetting (or refusing) to stretch properly. Either way, this is causing a small but drastic change in their kinetic chain.

    Using a combination of agility drills, active 3 dimensional stretching and foam rolling will aid in restoring length tension and force couple reactions in the muscles. In other words, it aids in decreasing the amount of trigger points (or knots, and yes you get them in every muscle in your body, not just your back) as well as decreasing the adhesion’s and muscle soreness.

    If you have been sitting in a car for a long period of time, most likely you have changed positions several times because your body gets uncomfortable and achy. When you get out of the car what is the first thing you do? Stretch, walk around so your muscle can lengthen out and relax since you have had them cramped up for so long. The concept isn’t much different when you run, or lift, or ride a bike or any other activity. You still need to lengthen out the muscles you are and are not using.

    The human body is an amazing machine, and injuries are your body’s way of saying, “Hey, listen to me, something is not right!” So, listen to your body, take time to train properly (take baby steps when transitioning into barefoot running). Take time to warm up, cool down and stretch properly. Plan on doing some self massage work with a high density foam roller. Take care of your body, it’s the only one you’ve got. If you have an injury, do something about it, but don’t just treat the symptoms. Treating the symptoms won’t solve the problem, but they can help you figure out the problem.

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Running Shorts is a part of the True/Slant network specializing in Running News, Trends, Insights and Perspectives. This blog is maintained by Megan Kretz (megan [dot] kretz [at] gmail [dot] com) and Geoff Decker (geoffreydecker [at] gmail [dot] com). Email either us with tips, suggestions or feedback. And thanks for reading!

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