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Barefoot running does have the advantage of removing all support from the foot, which forces the foot and arch to support themselves during the landing, transition, and toe-off phases. This can strengthen the arch, the ankle and hindfoot, and the toes. However, not every foot is ready to sustain this kind of exercise. If you just jump into barefoot running, you're likely to develop tendonitis in the calf and ankles, which could easily develop into a stubborn case of plantar fascitis.
If you want to run barefoot, you can avoid these problems by transitioning into barefoot.
First and foremost, you need to know what kind of foot you have! Are you a pronator? Do you have low arches? Are your feet flat and wide (like mine) or narrow and high? These questions can be answered with an examination of the feet and shoes. The wear on the outer sole of the shoe as well as the insole tell the story of how your feet interact with the shoe, and the shoe with the ground. The calluses on your feet tell more of the story. With this examination, we can determine what preparatory measures, if any, you need to take before transitioning to the next step, which is a minimalist shoe.
Minimalist shoes, also known as barefoot shoes, are becoming more and more prevalent, and I applaud this trend away from high-support, high-structure athletic shoes. I've been a proponent of letting the feet support themselves since my start as a bodyworker in the early 90's. Finding a minimal shoe--one that lets your feet support themselves and lets you feel the ground--is a great transitional step toward barefoot running.
Your first run in a minimal shoe might be a bit of a wake-up call. Most of us do not realize the extent to which we heel-strike because running shoes are designed to cushion that impact. Take that cushion away and you feel the heel strike the ground. It hurts! Minimalist shoes help you shift your landing forward onto the midfoot, where it belongs.
For me, barefoot shoes are good enough. I feel my calves and midfoot really working during a run in barefoot shoes, and I feel good contact with the ground. Living in the city and running at least 50% of my route on sidewalks, I'm not really interested in going completely bare.
But if you're motivated and you have routes that are safe for your feet, go ahead and run barefoot once you've had at least three months in barefoot shoes. Don't be afraid to go back and forth between minimal shoes and true barefoot running during this next transition.
If you're considering transitioning to barefoot running but aren't sure if it's right for you, send me an email or call to make an appointment. We can evaluate your feet to see what needs to be done.