One podiatrist’s views on running barefoot vs. wearing shoes

Let me tell you straight up that, as a podiatrist, I just don’t get the whole barefoot running craze. I was at the gym the other day and saw a guy running on the treadmill barefoot, and I was absolutely mortified.  He couldn’t possibly have understood what that can do to his feet, not to mention his shins and back.  Plus, the thought of exposing your bare feet to a surface that has been pounded on by thousands dirty shoe bottoms with sweat dripping down on it is just plain gross.

Running barefoot on a treadmill is one thing, but running outdoors with no shoes on is a whole other matter. Here are just a few cautions to consider:

  • Sharp Objects — Glass and sticks, not to mention rocks, garbage and other sharp objects are everywhere outside. Even the beach isn’t pain-free — ever stepped on a broken shell with bare feet? Ouch! It’s bad enough when you’re walking and step on one of these sharpies, but if you’re running and suddenly put your whole weight down on it you can really injure yourself. And since most runners travel a few miles from home, what happens if you’re on a path, in a park or down the beach and you slice your foot open? Not good.
  • Weight – The more weight a person carries, the more damaging barefoot running can be. There’s a big difference in the pressure placed on the feet of a 145-pound woman compared with a 250-pound man. If you’re a highly trained marathon runner with a small frame and exceptional conditioning, your feet might be able to handle some barefoot running. But if you’re like the rest of us, wear some shoes.
  • Other Health/Foot Problems – There are some people that just should not attempt to run barefoot. Those with diabetes, neuropathy, immune system disorders or any condition that causes numb feet should never run barefoot. Runners who have any type of mechanical issues, foot deformities, club foot, injury to tendons, flat feet or fallen arches, or have had any type of surgery on the foot or ankle also shouldn’t run barefoot.

While running barefoot might make you feel more in tune with the road, or nature, or whatever, in my opinion the risks just outweigh that perceived value. There are also plenty of minimalist running shoes that can give you a similar feel. I’m not a huge fan of these sneakers, either. But they’re better than no shoes at all!

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