Does barefoot running reduce injuries?

The increasingly popular trend of barefoot running relies on the theory that running shoes are the cause of many runners’ injuries. So are running shoes actually causing your injuries?

Famous runners have gone barefoot before us, including Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila, the greatest Olympic marathoner of all time, who won the first of his consecutive gold medals while running barefoot in a world record time of 2:15:17 minutes.

Interest in barefoot running sparked when Michael Warburton, physical therapist and marathoner, published an online paper titled, simply, "Barefoot Running.” Warburton points out that the extra weight of shoes on your feet is much worse than a pound or two elsewhere. Weight on your feet is subject to constant acceleration and deceleration and Warburton claims that 100 grams of extra weight on your feet decreases your running economy by 1%.

So barefoot running could potentially make you quicker, but is it really safer? According to Harvard’s Skeletal Bio Lab team barefoot runners tend to avoid landing on the heel of the foot and instead land with a forefoot or midfoot strike. These strikes do not generate the large impact transients of heel strikes and if impact contributes to some forms of injury then barefoot running might have some benefits. However, this hypothesis has yet to be test.

In fact, there have been no scientific studies that prove running shoes directly cause injuries, or that barefoot running is the solution. There are many factors that can increase or decrease your chances of various running injuries including: nutrition, training program & history, cardiovascular fitness and musculoskeletal strength. Our muscles and bones adapt to the demands that we impose on them, starting any new training program or style should be done carefully and slowly.