Barefoot Running: Yea or Nay?

Runners have worn footwear and gone barefoot while running to avoid injury

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Ever since Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila ran the marathon barefoot for gold in the 1960 Olympic Games, running shoeless has been a cool thing. But is barefoot running good or bad for the body?

The barefoot running trend has gained popularity over the last decade, but scientists are unsure whether this is a good or bad thing. A recent study showed that it is less about whether a runner is wearing shoes and more about how they are running.

Yes, running style does matter.

Transitioning to barefoot running should not happen overnight, but rather through a several week program design.

"Don’t just jump into barefoot running without a plan."

Carey E. Rothschild, DPT, physical therapy professor at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, led an investigation into barefoot running. A total of 6,082 runners were surveyed for the study. Only 785 completed the study.

Results of the survey indicated that 22 percent had tried barefoot running and 30 percent had tried minimalist shoes for running.

The most common reason given for both trying and not trying barefoot running was fear of injury, which was reported 34 percent and 54 percent respectively.

The demographic most interested in barefoot or minimalist shoe running were young men who thought they were high-level runners.

The barefoot running trend started when Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila won the Olympic gold medal in the marathon in 1960 barefoot. He had trained barefoot and found the shoes he was given to race in at the Olympics uncomfortable, so he pitched them.

Dr. Rothschild said, “Bikila may have been on to something. The research is really not conclusive on whether one approach is better than the other.”

“But what is clear is that it’s really a matter of developing a good running form and sticking to it, not suddenly changing it.”

After completing her study, Dr. Rothschild said, “There is no perfect recipe.”

Dr. Rothschild suggested that people get a physical exam and biomechanical assessment before making the transition to barefoot running.

She even designed a 10-12 week transitional program to help lower the risk of injury.

Dr. Rothschild warned that people with an existing injury, disease or deformity that would prohibit the runner from feeling soreness or injury should not try barefoot running.

This study will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 30, 2012
Last Updated:
March 7, 2013