BAREFOOT RUNNING: IS IT BETTER FOR YOUR FEET?
Orthopedic Surgeon, Andrew Gerken, MD, comments and answers questions regarding
the new craze of barefoot running.
ARE BAREFOOT RUNNING SHOES BETTER FOR YOUR FEET?
Dr. Gerken: That probably depends on what type of runner you are: old and
slow vs. young and fast; running long or short; overweight or slender.
If one has run for years in a consistent pattern and has been injury free,
then I would not recommend changing shoes. I do not think there is evidence
the barefoot running shoes are better for the feet as far as reported
injuries go. They may be better further up, i.e. knees, hips and back.
SOME OF THE WEBSITES SELLING BAREFOOT RUNNING SHOES CLAIM THAT THESE SHOES
RELIEVE AND/OR PREVENT ORTHOPEDIC INJURIES. WHAT IS YOUR VIEW WITH REGARD
TO THIS CLAIM?
Dr. Gerken: In some individuals, barefoot running shoes may be a better
alternative. Remember, many people have had injury free running careers,
and so for these people, “regular” running shoes should be
continued and they will do just fine. “If it isn’t broke,
don’t fix it.” I have seen more injuries recently in runners
who have changed to barefoot shoes. I do not think there is enough data
to suggest that all people are better off with barefoot running shoes,
or how to decide what shoe a particular runner should wear.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT OLYMPIAN ZOLA BUDD WHO HAS GAINED QUITE A LOT OF ATTENTION
RUNNING BAREFOOT? IS SHE DOING DAMAGE TO HERSELF, OR WOULD HER BAREFOOT
RUNNING PRACTICE HELP HER FEET?
Dr. Gerken: I was at the coliseum in 1984 and saw her race Mary Decker
in the Olympics. Although she was phenomenal, she was the only one in
the race barefoot. Many others had shoes and were contenders. I do not
think Zola was doing damage to herself, and quite well may have been helping
her feet with her style of running.
WHAT IS YOUR VIEWPOINT ON ALLOWING CHILDREN TO RUN AND PLAY ON GRASS OR
OTHER SAFE OUTDOOR SURFACES BAREFOOT? ARE THEY STRENGTHENING THEIR FEET
AND ANKLES OR DO YOUNG FEET NEED THE SUPPORT OF SHOES?
Dr. Gerken: I do not believe that children should run barefoot…
glass and punctures can be very dangerous and can lead to infections.
A minimally supportive, but protective layer under the sole of the foot
would be a minimum.
WHAT SHOULD RUNNERS LOOK FOR WHEN PURCHASING RUNNING SHOES?
Dr. Gerken: Since it is so important, you want to get the right reps who
can help analyze the runner and suggest a few models of shoes the runner
may consider. Then the runner should test and compare the different shoes
and pick the one that feels best. After a certain shoe has been used and
works, the runner can easily repurchase that type of shoe in the future.
Since so much time will be spent in them, a runner should plan to spend
an hour at the store buying a pair of shoes. Some running shoe stores
such as Snail’s Pace, Road Runner Sports, etc. have very good sales.
WHAT IS THE BEST SURFACE TO RUN ON, AND IS IT DAMAGING TO RUN ON PAVEMENT
NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF SHOES YOU WEAR?
Dr. Gerken: Softer surface is better to run on… grass, and then
dirt, followed by asphalt and then pavement. However, some people have
weak ankles and are susceptible to sprains, and then grass is too risky
to run on.
WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO SHARE SOME OF YOUR PERSONAL RUNNING EXPERIENCE
WITH OUR READERS?
Dr. Gerken: Of course I’d be glad to. I graduated in the same year
(1985) as Christopher McDougall, the author who wrote “Born to Run.”
We were classmates at Harvard, but I did not know him. A year prior, 1983
(Fall), I ran what was then 3 seconds off the school record for cross
country. Later, after I graduated, I trained with my coach, Ed Sheehan
(sub 29 for 10K), to run a marathon, taking a year off before starting
medical school. I was sponsored by Reebok, and although I could get any
shoe free, I chose the cheapest model they had. The expensive $125 shoe
was terrible… too much shoe. Why? Because I had trained myself
to run up on my toes. It was very unnatural at first, but it got me to
my goal… sub 30 for 10K. I had been struggling, and I noticed that
at 6AM in the morning, dead tired, Ed Sheehan would be running on his
toes from the start. So I thought I would try this, as I kept missing
my goal of getting under 30 minutes for 10K. The point is that it was
not totally the shoe that was a factor in how I ran. I had to train myself
to run up on my toes. Having a non-intrusive shoe made it possible.
However, now as an older person trying to run, my calves are my weak point
and running on my toes is not possible unless I am getting in very good
running shape. So I run now in my Brooks Endurance running shoes. I notice
that in many people getting into their 30′s and 40′s, the
calves and achilles become a weak point, and heel striking may become
Kate Wiley, M.D., still has the Ivy record for Cross-Country and is a sports
medicine doctor. She struggles with her calves now as a runner. So my
concern is that barefoot running will overstress the calves in some runners,
giving them problems. For younger, competitive runners, it may be better
to have less shoe (but not necessarily barefoot). I do not think one needs
to be barefoot and risk injuring the skin. I think the important feature
is to run up on the ball of the foot. I certainly do not recommend to
all people that they should switch to barefoot shoes. If someone were
going to try it, either because of prior injuries or performance goals,
I would recommend a gradual transition.