Barefoot Running: Does It Prevent Injuries?

Abstract

Endurance running has evolved over the course of millions of years and it is now one of the most popular sports today. However, the risk of stress injury in distance runners is high because of the repetitive ground impact forces exerted. These injuries are not only detrimental to the runner, but also place a burden on the medical community. Preventative measures are essential to decrease the risk of injury within the sport. Common running injuries include patellofemoral pain syndrome, tibial stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendonitis. Barefoot running, as opposed to shod running (with shoes), has recently received significant attention in both the media and the market place for the potential to promote the healing process, increase performance, and decrease injury rates. However, there is controversy over the use of barefoot running to decrease the overall risk of injury secondary to individual differences in lower extremity alignment, gait patterns, and running biomechanics. While barefoot running may benefit certain types of individuals, differences in running stance and individual biomechanics may actually increase injury risk when transitioning to barefoot running. The purpose of this article is to review the currently available clinical evidence on barefoot running and its effectiveness for preventing injury in the runner. Based on a review of current literature, barefoot running is not a substantiated preventative running measure to reduce injury rates in runners. However, barefoot running utility should be assessed on an athlete-specific basis to determine whether barefoot running will be beneficial.

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Acknowledgments

No funding was obtained for the preparation of this paper. All authors declare no conflicts of interest relevant to this manuscript. The authors thank Eric Smith, M.D. and Tyler Skaife, M.D. for editorial suggestions for this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Emily J. Curry.

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Murphy, K., Curry, E.J. & Matzkin, E.G. Barefoot Running: Does It Prevent Injuries?. Sports Med 43, 1131–1138 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0093-2

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Keywords

  • Ground Reaction Force
  • Stance Phase
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Orthotic Device
  • Collision Force