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yay-5089418 pond5As a podiatrist, my teachers, professors and peers, espoused that feet need help, specifically they need good support, cushioning, and padding. But, more and more, I started reading about people and cultures that go barefoot and not only do they have fewer foot, ankle, knee and even back problems. Now, I am re-thinking everything I learned.

Was The Human Foot Designed to Walk and Run Barefoot?

The human foot is incredible, strong, dynamic and adaptable. For thousands of years our feet survived and functioned fine (maybe even better?) without elaborately padded, supported $100 Nikes. Further, persons without their hands can learn to drive and paint with their feet. Take a look at the masterpieces created by the Mouth and Foot Painter Artists association. Why can’t a runner learn to run barefoot?

Recently, Christopher McDougall has reinvigorated the barefoot running debate with his book Born To Run. Previously, some runners have had great success barefoot, including the late, great Abebe Bikila from Ethiopia.

Runners have been plagued with foot, ankle and knee problems. It comes with the territory: two to three times the weight of the runner’s body coming down on each foot with each stride. The advocates of barefoot running claim they can literally feel the ground and as a result, the biomechanics of their running gait changes to lessen the force of your foot landing.

Advocates of barefoot running contend that shoes worsen the chance of injury.

The scientific literature on barefoot running (and barefoot walking) is scarce, but at this point the published research leans toward running and walking barefoot, and I would have to agree—barefoot is better!

I just may be the first podiatrist to advocate running barefoot, but let me clarify this statement: I don’t believe barefoot running  is for everyone. I will discuss who and who shouldn’t run (or walk) barefoot in just a moment. First, let me talk briefly about the medical and scientific literature.

The scientific literature on barefoot running is sparse. But, what is out there supports more foot and ankle injuries in people wearing running shoes than in persons going barefoot. This is also true of plantar fasciitis, some knee problems, and other injuries. It appears that running shoes decrease sensory feedback, interfering with the body’s natural shock absorbing tendencies. Further, running shoes may actually decrease the runner’s awareness of their foot and the foot’s position, increasing the risk of injury.

Our feet have many muscles within each foot and many that attach to our feet that originate in the leg. Wearing running shoes may lessen or diminish the “firing” of some of these muscles. When the foot is not in shoes, it adapts—rapidly—to uneven surfaces, and in theory, forcing us to “use” all the muscles in our foot.

Who Should Run Barefoot (and who should not!)

Reasonably experienced runners in good condition with healthy feet should try barefoot running (when conditions and terrain warrant it). By “healthy feet” I mean their foot has a good, stable structure, and good sensation. Their foot does not have an excessively high arch or low arch and they are not diabetic. Further, their foot should be free of any significant deformities—no bunions, hammertoes, or other bone problems. Persons who are diabetic, have decreased sensation, or a foot that is not healthy or flat or high arched etcetera, likely needs corrective support, such as good running shoes and/or orthotics.

Learning to Run Barefoot

Barefoot runners have a different gait than shoe-wearing runners. Learning to run barefoot takes time and training. I imagine not everyone will be able to teach themselves and their feet to adapt to barefoot running. Remember, some of the superstar athletes who run barefoot may have grown up in cultures where shoes were not the norm and as result, you have someone whose foot is more use to being bare than in a shoe. Further, persons who are in these “barefoot” communities may have a foot with genetic adaptations geared toward barefoot running—meaning, generations of going barefoot have essentially bred a foot that works better when bare.

What to Watch Out For When Running Barefoot

Barefoot running isn’t without risks. Start slow and build up gradually. Research the right way to build up proprioception reflexes in your feet, ankles and legs, and build up the muscles. Don’t run where you can injure your feet—avoid nails, rocks, broken glass etcetera.. (Part of the reason the medical community has strongly advocated shoes is because of the risk of puncture wonds. Every podiatrist has seen his or her share of glass and nails inside their patients’ feet. Further, cold weather can cause frostbite on unprotected feet.)

Vibram makes a shoe that increases the ability to feel the ground, as does Terra Plana and Nike Free (see links below). One scientific study does support that Vibram’s Five Finger’s reasonably simulates barefoot conditions.

I would be interested to hear about your experiences running barefoot. Specifically, I am curious if there are any successful barefoot runners who have a poor foot structure (i.e. flat foot, bunions, pronation etc.)

Resources for Barefoot Running

The point of this article is to get people thinking about barefoot running and decide for themselves if it is right for them. Here are some resources to help you learn more about barefoot running (and I would recommend reading Chris McDouball’s book Born To Run):

Running Barefoot

Society for Barefoot Living 

Wikipedia on Barefoot Running

Barefoot Runner

Living Barefoot

Vibram Five Fingers

Terra Plana

Go Barefoot

Enjoy Going Barefoot

Review of Nike Free

Nate Luzod – A barefoot runner’s journal

Barefoot Ted’s Adventures

Barefoot Running in Seattle

How to Begin Barefoot Running

Freeing the Captives… 2 Barefoot Soles at a Time

Image Credit – man’s feet running on the grass Photos by Pond5

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  • Jon

    I have flat feet AND bunions and always had one injury after another until I started running barefoot or in Vibram FiveFingers. Those expensive motion control shoes did nothing for me except cause injuries. Good article except for the part about who shouldn’t run barefoot. The thinking seems to be a little backwards there. I believe running barefoot will build up the foot muscles and correct the arches. I’ve only been running barefoot for 4 months so I’ll have to wait and see. But I should note I’ve never run 4 months injury free prior to going barefoot.

  • Tim Butterfield

    I appreciate the article, but I also take exception to the part about who should run barefoot. A few months ago, I walked with a cane. A hypermobile lumbar disc could move out of place and lock at any time. The pinched nerve would cause my legs to collapse and I would fall. My chiropractor recommended orthotics. I tried the Spenco brand for a while, with little success. Physical therapy to strengthen my core helped some, but the problem remained. Then, I heard about the barefoot movement and found out about Vibram FiveFingers. After doing lots of internet research on the topic, I stopped wearing any shoe with a heel that could throw off my posture. The only shoes I wore were my FiveFinger KSOs and Classics. I began to feel better right away. My mobility greatly improved. Now, just a few months later, the cane is packed away and I am on week four of the Couch to 5K running program. I did not become a barefooter by starting as a healthy runner. Instead, I am on my way to becoming a runner because of starting to go barefoot/minimalist first.

  • GB

    I have to agree with the two other post’s.

    My hip pain is gone just by going barefoot, and minimalist walking.

  • Golden Harper

    I’m a running store Manager (Runner’s Corner in Orem, Utah) and I am going to have to agree with the people’s comments above. Some of the best candidates to do this are those who have tried everything else and are at the end of their wits. There is still a place for shoes (although I agree that heels should be eliminated from shoes) but going minimalist sure seems to solve a lot of problems. Whether you believe in divine creation or millions of years of evolution, our feet work great naturally!

  • justin

    Nice write-up. To your list of links on barefooting, please consider letting people know about a fivefingers fan site –

    Lots of photos and user experiences on the blog there and active discussion about barefoot running, VFFs, or other barefoot activities on the forums.

    As for experiences, I’m collecting data on people’s experiences with VFFs. At least 20% of the respondents (out of around 60) have reported having Morton’s toe. About 30% of respondents have what they consider to be “wide feet.” Overall, survey takers are very pleased with their experiences and a few people have reported improved posture, less backpain, and other improvements to their health.

    If nothing else, I think people just feel like being more active when they get to walk around the earth barefoot. It’s like the increased sensitivity to your feet makes you want to play, jump, run, climb trees, etc. It’s like being a kid again.

  • Michael Sandahl

    I just started running again after a long – ten year – lay off, and I am doing it in VFF Sprints. I’m out of running shape, but feel great. I have had a case of PF this past year, but no pain whatsoever while running barefoot. I am a convert for now. I’ll keep you posted.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Thanks for the info. I plan to add a list of Barefoot Running Links to the this site shortly, and I will add your site then.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Michael Sandahl:

    Thanks for the comment. Tell us about the structure of your foot. Also, did you have plantar fasciitis when you started running barefoot and it resolved?

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Golden Harper:
    Thanks. Just curious: What do you base your “heel” comment on?

  • Dr. Nirenberg


    Fascinating. If you are comfortable, please send us a photo of your deformed feet to post and tell us about how you started/trained etc.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Tim and GB:

    Your story is interesting. Please tell us about the structure of your foot? (Normal arch, low etc.)

  • Tim Butterfield

    I think my foot is mostly normal; at least I have not been told otherwise. It is wide. The New Balance I used to wear were 4E size 9 US. I think the arch is just a little high or possibly just thick. If I wear socks with my FiveFinger KSOs, there is barely enough overlap for the velcro strap over the arch to catch. This overlap increases a little when worn without socks. My toes were cramped together before, possibly exacerbated from occasionally wearing pointy-toed cowboy boots. I think my feet and toes are beginning to widen. When my feet are relaxed, I can easily see light between the big toe and second toe and between the second and third toes. The outer toes are still cramped for now. I took some quick photos with my iPhone. Perhaps you can tell more from these:

  • GB

    I have a medium to high arch.
    I have run before, cycle, lift weights.
    I have broken a ankle mild, I think it was the right one.
    PF, in my left foot, orthodics.
    I have used the foot wheel, The Stick. That helps.

    I don’t know why, but my left hip flexor muscle atrophied.
    I use more protein now.

    What has helped is Sumo dead lifts, (Converse sneaker, with insole ripped out) Lunges abduction, adduction
    on the cable machine. Orthopedic doctor told me to stretch (Doc was into sports med)

    The pain never went away, All of those exercises and stretches helped,
    but never 100%.
    Using shoes with no heel, thin soles, and going barefoot the pain is 99.9% gone. Also walking, running with NO heel strike, walking with mid to fore foot landing also helps.

    Here are some pics.

  • Tina

    I also suffered from plantar fasciitis before switching to minimalist shoes for running. I had this condition for 6 years and no conventional shoe or orthotic solved this issue for me. I also had first-metatarsal joint pain while running in conventional shoes, which also resolved after switching to minimalist shoes. I wear Vibram FiveFingers as much as I can and have no more foot or leg pain issues.
    An interesting impromptu experiment I tried after switching to running strictly in VFFs (it is usually a long transition between regular and minimalist shoes) was to try a run in regular running shoes again. I noticed immediately that my feet, ankles, knees, and hips all started hurting right away. This convinced me that running in VFFs is the way for me to run.
    Thank you for your open-minded approach to barefootedness and minimalist footwear.

  • Shelley

    I ran a great deal (6 miles/day) in highschool but have been moderately sedentary for 25 years (Now early 40’s). I had significant knee pain then, enough to make me quit. I was diagnosed with chrondomalacia patella. I have suffered periodic knee pain since.

    I have a mild bunion on my left foot and had a chevron bunionectomy and “drilling” of the same joint on my right foot a year and a half ago. Size Womens 10-11 depending on fit, narrow heel, medium hight arch and long toes. 5′-6″ and 150 lbs (and dropping).

    I started running earlier this year in regular Asics and ended up with a stress fracture of the tibia plateau within only 3 weeks. Now I am recovered and I got a couple pair of Vibram FFs. I have been using them almost exclusively since the broken leg. I go about 5 k on grass, loose and coarse gravel, and pavement about ( slowly increasing the amount of running vs walking on account of my healing leg, I am up to 3k running. )

    I feel light and efficient. My knees don’t hurt, my broken leg doesn’t hurt, and neither my bunion, nor my bunionectomy bothers me. I haven’t taken a single aspirin or advil since I got off my crutches and into the five fingers! I used pop aspirin like tic-tacs for my knees! I am thoroughly convinced that the barefoot-gait that the five fingers encourage is the most critical factor in the improved biomechanics and pain relief.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Thanks, Shelley. When running barefoot, did you consciously change your gait or did this evolve naturally?

  • Shelley

    My gait naturally changed upon wearing the Vibrams.

    Before the shoes, I would plod rather heavily (I could hear an internal ‘thunk” at each strike). My gait adjusted completely and immediately. Based on what I have read, I took to the minimal shoes rather quickly. I had mild calf discomfort after my first day (1km) running with the VFFs, and following that, I have had no calf pain at all and no more thunking. I should mention that my snapping hip syndrome spontaneously goes away when in the VFF and recurs spontaneously when I put regular shoes on. A trainer that I don’t know saw me run and said “wow, you glide along like a Kenyan.” Made me feel pretty good for an out of shape 40-something mom! I am working towards running 5k daily.

  • Michael Sandler

    As a barefoot runner who once had 10 knee operations and now has a titanium femur and rod in my hip, and who had to wear hard plastic podiatrist made orthotics just to cross the living room floor in my ‘motion control’ Nikes, I am the strongest believer and proponent of running barefoot. I could never heal or get balanced until I took off my shoes, but now run unshod, 10-20 miles a day and have been injury free for over two years.

    I have high arches and have worn motion control shoes with custom made orthotics (hard and soft…mainly hard until my feet became too sensitive) since 1989. I’ve never been able to run long distances because I could get plantar fasciitis just by looking at the ground, let alone running.

    Thank you Dr. Nirenberg for your comments and article!

    (Here’s a link to more on my story and our barefoot running club, started by Jessie Lee in Boulder, Colorado:

    ~Michael Sandler

  • themaniacrunner

    Hi doctor, that was a great write up with very detailed information, I did some research on the vivo shoes and ‘m still not sure how it simulates barefoot running. The nike free’s are obviously more flexible and the vibrams fivefingers are very close to protected “barefeet”. For those who want to read a great article on the difference between the nike free’s and vibrams, here is one view on it:

    My question to you was the research on vibrams, you mentioned there was an actual scientific study on how the vibrams simulate barefoot running, can you direct me to this? thank you!

  • steve

    does walking in converse simulate barefoot walking for outdoors? what about earth shoes and birkenstocks…former crocs addict whos feet were worsened by said crocs.

  • steve

    do converse work for barefoot simulation? earth or birkenstocks?? need lower cost options …former croc junkie ( they ruined my feet hence barefooting in the house)

  • RunningAgain

    I have bunions and am slightly knock-kneed, but have normal arches. I had run injury free for about six years, but when I tried hard plastic orthotics to prevent bunion growth (by correcting for overpronation), I found that within a year I had to stop running because of knee pain. Now I’ve switched to Vibram Five Fingers and the knee pain seems to have gone away, even when running on asphalt. I noticed that my gait has changed significantly (shorter strides, gliding closer over the ground, landing on the whole foot with the weight on the ball of the foot rather than landing on the heel, which explains the lack of knee pain). I can’t seem to mimic that gait in sneakers – I slide forward in the shoe if I try to land on my toes, and hit my toes against the front of the shoe. I’m feeling great, but worried that running barefoot may cause my bunion to grow, since I’m hitting harder on the ball of my foot (and I might be back to overpronating – I can’t tell) Should I be worried?

  • lisa

    Dr. Nirenberg,
    Thank you for the informative article. I have a couple questions for you or other readers. Have you heard of any experiences/have more info on: 1) the effects of barefoot running on runner’s knee, and 2) fairly lightweight, long-distance backpacking (e.g. 25lbs max including food and water) using any of the barefoot running shoes on the market?

  • Markus

    I have been running since April 2009. I run about 9-12 miles a week, and I have flat feet. During the first 2 months of running, I used to experience sharp pains in my calves. During that time I was also a heel striker. Did I experience the calf pains because I was a heel striker, or simply because I was new to the sport? Who knows….however, after that, I did read about and switched to midfoot/forefoot striking. I never changed my shoes (New Balance 474 trail running shoes); I only changed my running gait. It’s been nine months now since I started running, and I have had no injuries. Again, I still wear running shoes, but I consciously made an effort to change my gait to striking on the midfoot/forefoot, and it seems to make a difference. What do you think?

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Very interesting! I do think your form has a lot to do with your success and lack of pain and injury. I wonder if barefoot runners have less injuries because they are more conscious of their running (the impact of their feet, thinking about gait, posture, form) and maybe, you are now succeeding because you have become MORE AWARE? What do you think?

  • LKH

    It appears from all the evidence as of 2/1/10 that barefoot running is the best way to run. I am skeptical though. Research and studies, from any source, may not be right. For example, a study may say certain barefoot cultures have less foot problems. That could be true but the conclusion could be wrong. The foot problems actually could be due to body weight, not shoes. People in the US have higher rates of obesity which in turn could affect the feet.

    The best research comes from the runners who have run barefoot over a period of time. It seems like the consensus from the internet is that it is the best way to run. I say seems because if running barefoot is so good I think you’d hear about a lot more professional and other marathoners doing it for training or racing (some races prohibit bare feet). In fact, by now, almost all of them should be running barefoot, but they’re not. My guess is that this a fad that will prove to be short lived but will still retain a small percentage of converts. In any case, I will try it when the ground thaws here and I hope I like it.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    LKH —
    You raise a great point. Obesity is a factor for sure! And there could be other factors. Oddly, there are no studies showing a given running shoe has advantages over any other shoe or even barefoot. In the world of research, money is often a driving factor and one would think that by now someone – Nike? Dr. Scholls? – would have done some kind of basic study showing their shoe is better than barefoot. For the barefoot runners, there is no money in going barefoot so it might be harder to find someone who wants to spend the money to prove or disprove advantages.

  • Asim

    I am 34. For the past 15 years I have had a mild knee pain on both my knees a few hours after I played football, squash or went for a run on the treadmill. I had been to two physios one of which gave me a custom made orthotic and said I had flat feet.

    While the pain was never serious I knew it was causing long term damage, so I limited the amount of sport I played. But I still played sport up to once a week.

    In the last few months I diagnosed myself as having chondromalacia by reading various articles on the internet – I had classic symptoms. I then started to do some quad strengthening exercises which helped a little. In the last few weeks the pain had gone in my left knee after exercise, but I still had some mild pain in my right knee.

    A week ago I started to read about barefoot running. I changed my regular sandals and work shoes for a very thin soled pair of Speedo water shoes in which I took the sole out to simulate walking around barefoot. I stopped the quad exercises. And I started to run barefoot on my treadmill.

    The two times I have run on the treadmill in the last week (barefoot) have been the first two times in the last 15 years where I’ve not had ANY pain at all in my knees after strenuous exercise.

  • Ryan

    I recently just started runnning in VFF’s. I have flat feet due to falling arches a few years back. I underwent knee surgery (acl, meniscus) 5 months ago and rehab went very well. After my first run outdoors I came down with Plantar Fasciitis the next day. A few days later I was recommended the VFF’s and went out and got them. I have only run once so far as I had to give my calves a good rest after the first run but I can say that it has been a week and there has been no pain or signs of PF since the run. I also used to get lower back pain while running and can say that I did 4 miles in the VFF’s with absolutely no pain, I felt like I could run forever. Definitely a relaxing run. Almost feels like it takes the work out of running and makes it rather enjoyable.

  • sh.

    I have been running barefoot or in vibram 5’s for five months, and it’s great. I have flat feet, and tried running in the past and was told to stop because I almost immediately got a weird numbness in the ball of my foot which then turned into pain – as if there were a stone in my foot, right in the middle of the ball of my foot – and then I would stop running. I have had no such issue this time.
    I started running barefoot or in moccasins if it was too cold for bare feet. I started on a grass and gravel track, then ended up buying the vibrams and running on grass, trails, gravel and asphalt. I typically go barefoot in the house, and anywhere I can in good weather, and in good weather I wear havianas flip flops or saltwater sandals if I must wear shoes. But now I run either barefoot or in the vibrams and it’s great. I have been injury free. I followed the iphone couch to 5k program (without actually running in a race because I see no point for me personally) and now run 3-4 times a week, about 3 miles each time, with or without the dog, with or without the vibrams, with or without music on the headphones, on the road, by the side of the road or on trails. It’s great. I have always hated exercise, and now, at 35, I am loving it.

  • Mona

    Thank you for the informative article! Just commenting to subsribe to the comments. I love how you respond to questions in peoples comments so interactive! look forward to reading more from you.

  • Kelly Verriere

    I have been battling hallux rigidus in my right foot for about 4 years. It has come to the point where I can only wear sandals and one pair of sneakers. I am very interested in the VFF’s as I am most comfortable in my bare feet. Is there any contraindication for these shoes with my affliction? I have enjoyed running in the past and have been basically injury free. I am naturally a forefoot striker anyway so the concept of these shoes excite me! I am awaiting a chilectomy to fix my sore toe- should I wait until post-op to get fitted for the shoes or can I get some relief right now? Also are they good for walking at a fast pace as well on a regular basis?

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Generally, VFFs could be worn with forms of hallux rigidus, but I would check with your podiatrist first though. In terms of yoru surgery – why wait? Start wearing them sooner than later. Just remember, when it comes to barefoot activity, start SLOOOWWW!!!!

  • shannon

    I’m a runner with very high arches and rigid feet. In the past I’ve run a few half-marathons a year, and invariably would come down with severe hip pain while trying to up my mileage. This spring I’ve switched to the VFF KSOs, and after a month I’m up to about 4 miles, 4x/week. I’ve had the usual calf and ankle pain during my transition, but no hip pain at all. My biggest problem is keeping my mileage down – it’s so much fun to run in these shoes that I have to force myself to stop, knowing that I’ll hurt the next day if I push too far! I’ve also found that my pace is about a minute per mile faster with the VFFs than with traditional running shoes. We’ll see how it goes as I get up to higher mileage, but I’m cautiously optimistic at this point…

  • Trevor Groves

    I have run for over thirty years, a dedicated heel plodder until reading Born To Run last fall, and have now transitioned my form to that of a barefoot runner while progressively decreasing my shoe support. It has been transformational and on many long runs I have pondered if perhaps a Mortons toe is some sort of progression in the evolution of the foot. I think of other runners, many with hooves (a very stable landing and springing zone), the characterstic v, pointing sharply forward, symmetric. Could a long second toe create a functionally more aligned surface to run with? Is there significance to the second tarsal/metatarsal aligning seemingly centered under the subtalar joint?
    appreciate any thoughts

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    I am glad to hear how well you are doing with barefoot activity! You raise an interesting point about the Morton’s toe. Oddly, traditional podiatric thought is that this type of foot is less stable generally and generally more prone to increased motion at the first metatarsal (the bone on the inside of your arch that helps make up your big toe joint). I will give your theory some thought, especially in light of the foot being used for barefoot activity and running. Thanks for making me think!

  • Cpl Kloss

    Hello! I am new to the research and trials of minimalist type running. I am in the US Marine Corps, so running is both pleasure, pain, and career. I have extremely pronated feet. My knees point inward due to flat fleet. My pelvic bone, and L5 on the left side are fused together from birth, while my right side is normal. This causes my left leg to appear shorter than my right due to my hips being misaligned. It truly throws the whole system off a bit. Several doctors, a naturopath and a podiatrist, suggested orthotics to correct the uneven legs. However, they seem to cause more pain in my knees, hips, and back. My feet hurt, but I would rather have pain in my feet(two parts) than the rest(5 parts). I started with just el cheapo from Wal-mart water shoes ($8) and ran strictly on a well established track. I noticed several changes immediately. First, my feet and ankles are quite weak! I had to focus hard on staying on my forefoot. Second, my knees, hips, and back did not hurt at all! I started small by running only a half mile. I still wear traditional runners on pavement, but every time I got back to traditional shoes, I get about 100 yards into any run, and my knees hurt first, followed shortly after by my hips and back.

    So much like others above, I have little long term evidence, however the immediate results convince me. My feet will strengthen, distance increase, and performance like-wise. But damage to my knees hips and back will not get better by repetition, unless I listen to my body. God made it in such a way as to survive. From every aspect, breathing(automatic) the heart pumping(automatic) storing fat, burning fat, storing water, flushing water,(all based on survival and nutrition) even sneezing is a reaction of the body protect itself. Therefore I believe it ought to be assumed the body was built to hold its own weight naturally as well.

    I will point out, that my second and third(from the big toe) toe’s are webbed half way up on each foot. I want to use Vibram 5 Finger’s but I am afraid that by design they will not fit my feet. Does anyone have suggestions as an alternative?

  • Carter

    I have been suffering with plantar fasciitis for 8 months. I enjoy mountaineering and train by hiking hills with heavy loads. For the last 8 months I’ve tried virtually everything to eliminate the pain of PF. On the advice of my podiatrist and physical therapist I wore supportive footwear everywhere – even around the house. After a period of time the PF would seem to get better, but then get worse again for no particular reason.

    Within the last three months I noticed that if I walked barefoot or with flip-flops my feet hurt less or not at all. I’ve recently purchased Vibram Five Fingers and found that my feet also do not hurt when wearing them even after hiking for several miles.

    During a typical workday I try to avoid wearing shoes unless absolutely necessary. However, if I have a sales appointment or important meeting I switch into semi-casual Merrel footwear. Within minutes my feet begin to hurt.

    I firmly believe that strengthening any muscle or joint in the body is the first step to repair damage to it. Why should the feet be any different? Walking / Hiking / Running barefoot certainly helps build foot strength for me. Hopefully more research will be done to support this.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Thanks, Carter! I will be posting a new post very soon about the fact that moderate to severe pronators (when running) actually pronate less when running barefoot (as compared to in shoes)!

  • Running Fool

    I was a pronator before i started running barefoot but after a few months of dedicated running my for seems to have corrected itself

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Great! Barefoot activity builds up the muscles that have been weakened from a lifetime of wearing shoes, and as the muscles improve, excessive pronation can lessen!

  • Jen

    I've just started out running and I find barefoot running to be a very interesting idea. However, after my first barefoot run, my feet were extra sore – how can I ease the pain?

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    First, it is important that you start barefoot running VERY GRADUALLY and slowly. After a lifetime in shoes, your muscles are likely weak. Start strengthening them and do some barefoot walking before you run. If you have pain, I would do a lot of stretching, soaking, and massage. I hope this helps.

  • Ns_donaldson

    Dear Dr Nirenberg,
    Its great to see some coming together of ideas from the two different communities after a period of antagonism (I may have been a bit guilty of this).

    I took up barefoot running around 14 months ago after around 30 years of running in a variety of running shoes.
    Recently I came across an old running diary of mine from 1984 and I noticed while reading through it that I seemed to be injured for significant periods, either debilitating tendon pain, knee pain or muscle damage.
    The record was interesting because I don't remember any of it today, I must have just accepted it as part of being a runner, the no pain no gain ethos.
    Around September of 2009 on a beautiful spring day (Australia) I finished work and put on my Asics runners and hit the road, within 1km my shins were so sore I couldn't control my foot landing. I abandoned my run and limped home.
    That was the last time I used the running shoes.
    Barefoot running has to be gradual, my feet were so weak I couldn't walk around the block without pain. The transition included under foot soreness, ankle soreness due to the support being removed and calf soreness.
    One year on and my feet are now transformed, I can run up to 14km barefoot on the beach or road.
    The worst I suffer from now is occasional sore calves and the odd blister if I am not concentrating on my form.
    I seem to have eliminated my low back problems that I had over the last 20 years and the knees are completely pain free.
    The things I enjoy about barefoot running is the quietness and lightness, I'm sure on day I will be able to leave minimal trace on the beach where I have ran.
    I can also move my little toes now which is one thing I have never managed before.
    It will be great when we have more research in this area about the transformations of the foot that take place when the shoes get worn less.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Thanks for the comment. It is great to hear about people succeeding with barefoot activity.

  • Mindmaven

    Thanks Dr. Nirenberg for the post and advice. Due to my semi-serious running addiction of the last four years, I have developed an extremely painful case of plantar fasciitis; it plagues me daily. My latest running shoes were much stiffer than previous brands and the heel seems more elevated as well. on an instinctual whim, I removed my shoes during a run for almost two miles…keeping my socks on for warmth; the pain and ligament tension lessened with every stride. And after putting my shoes back on for the final stretch over the most gnarly asphalt known to man, the pain returned immediately. So I walked…barefoot for the rest of the way. My permanent pain subsides with every barefoot run. Go figure…

  • baby feet

    Ok so I am pretty sure I went about this all wrong. I ran for about 7 years, with no problems once I found the right shoe, and then I had a baby. So 13 months later I began to run again to train for a marathon, only my second, but I had done more than a dozen halfs over the years. I also did a few tri's and duathlons. Biking was what I really enjoyed so running came second. Well about 6 weeks into my training the shoe style I used to run in seemed to be causing problems in my left arch and my right outer knee. I had not had problems like this before the baby. I had heard having a baby can change your feet but I did not know the truth to that. Ok so after a 13 mile training run my arch was inconsolable. Now for 13 months I was 90% of the time barefoot in my house taking care of my baby. So four days a week and a half goes by, no runs longer than 8 miles and my arch still hurting, and I knew it was the shoe because it was only when I put the shoe on to run would my arch pain spike.
    So having a 16 mile run coming up in 3 days I did not know what to do but something had to change. I started to investigate this barefoot thing. I am a neutral foot and never needed orthotics. So it was run 16 in shoes that cause pain, buy a brand new pair of shoes but different style, or try this barefoot thing. So Here is what I did wrong. I bought Merrells pace glove, and ran 16 miles in them. Now this run actually went great!! No pain, sore muscles, but no arch, knee, or tendon pain. Mostly calf soreness. I then proceeded to think this was the new thing for me. My short runs during the week were fine with no pain other than really sore calf's.
    Two weeks later I had an 18 mile run to do which was last Saturday. I was nervous knowing there would be bigger hills. Well I suffered that day. 9 miles in is when the pain started in my knee, behind the knee cap. By the end of the run both hips, knees and ankles felt like they were grinding the bone down to nubs. I cried, iced, and rested when I got home. I took Ibuprofen and took most of the week easy. Well its been a week and I was supposed to run 8-9 mile today. I made it 2. The pain actually started at about the 1 mile mark and at the 2 mile mark I decided I did not want to make it worse. I think I am ruined. At least I feel that way.

  • pishiboro

    From my own experience I would advise starting out completely barefoot and never make this transition while training for a race. Especially in Vff. it feels so good to run you will likely injure yourself. From my experience rock climbing I know that tendons take longer to strengthen then muscles.

  • Dbrandt4

    I've run barefoot for 5 years now. As a barefoot runner I've found that I suffer very few running injuries. Matter of fact, I've suffered Zero injuries that have prevented me from running. This was not true when I ran shod: knee and shin pain plagued me. If you want to learn more, feel free to post your questions on my Facebook site: Dayton Barefoot Runner.

  • K Sollis

    v. interesting. i've been toying with the idea of barefoot running since suffering my second injury in 10 months. first was a problem with my piriformis, now it's my knee (both my right side) i've seen several physios and been told it's due to a stiff SI joint (which another said was not so stiff), a weak core, poor activation of my gluts and hip flexers and most recently, high arches. my physio has since said i need orthodics to correct my high arches and help distribute the impact from my heel and the ball of my feet but this didn't much sense to me as when running, you shouldn't be landing on your heel but on the forefoot. great to hear that someone with high arches can run barefoot without injury. any more advice/ experience with this would be much appreciated!

    kim sollis