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  • Writer's pictureAndray Voronov

The Bare Necessities of Barefoot Running: An Osteopath’s Guide



Hello there, I’m Dr Andray Voronov of Gravity Osteopathy, your friendly neighborhood osteopath in Narre Warren. Today we're ditching the shoes and delving into the world of barefoot running. I know what you're thinking: "Barefoot? Isn't that a little...prehistoric?" Well, you're not wrong, but before we dismiss our ancestors, let's discuss why they might have been onto something.


Barefoot running has been causing quite a stir in recent years, and for good reason. The benefits range from improved balance to increased strength in your feet and lower legs, all wrapped up in a connection to nature that’s good for the soul. Trust me, you won’t be the same after frolicking through a park and feeling the grass between your toes. It's an exercise, yes, but also a form of meditation. Intrigued? Well, fasten your seatbelts—or should I say unfasten your shoelaces—and let's explore this fascinating topic together.


Understanding the Theory Behind Barefoot Running

One could say it's as natural as a jog in the park. We were born barefoot, after all. There's a compelling body of research suggesting that shoeless striding can lead to fewer injuries and improved biomechanics (Lieberman, 2020; Tam, Tucker, Santos-Concejero & Prins, 2020).


Our foot, with its intricate architecture of 26 bones and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments, is designed to absorb shock and propel us forward. It's a biological marvel that, some say, shoes unnecessarily constrain.


Running barefoot encourages a forefoot or midfoot strike pattern, which is generally less impactful than the heel strike seen in shod running. This change alone could lead to fewer running injuries (Murphy, Curry, & Matzkin, 2020).


If you're like me when I first learned about barefoot running, you're probably now looking at your shoes with a new level of distrust. Fear not, I’m not suggesting we set all our footwear ablaze in a revolutionary act of defiance. It's about learning, adapting, and possibly transitioning to barefoot running—or at least minimalist running—for those interested in a new perspective on their running journey.


Transitioning to Barefoot Running: A Step by Step Guide

Before we dive into the barefoot world headfirst (or toes first?), it's important to note that this isn't something you should rush. Our bodies are not used to the different stresses and strains associated with barefoot running. It's like the difference between driving on the smooth streets of the suburbs and the rugged terrain of the outback.


I suggest the following steps to get you started:

1. Visit an Osteopath

First things first, pay a visit to your local osteopath, ideally one experienced with runners. They can assess your gait, check for any potential issues, and provide advice tailored to your situation. That's not a shameless plug; it's a genuine piece of advice.


2. Start Slow

Barefoot running involves muscles you might not have used extensively. Start by walking barefoot as much as possible.


3. Short Barefoot Running Sessions

Begin with short, slow, barefoot runs on a soft surface. This could be as short as 5-10 minutes, or even less.


4. Increase Duration Gradually

Increase your barefoot running time gradually, adding a few minutes to each session every week. Make sure you're listening to your body and avoiding pushing too hard.


5. Practice Good Form

Maintain a short, quick stride. Try to land on the middle of your foot and roll through to your front toes.


6. Listen to Your Body

This is the most important step. Barefoot running is different. It's supposed to feel different. But it should not cause pain. If something hurts, stop and consult with your osteopath.


Barefoot Day-to-Day

If you're thinking about transitioning to the barefoot lifestyle in your day-to-day life, this is also something that would benefit from a stepped approach.


My favourite barefoot shoe brand is VivoBarefoot which you can find locally at Sole Mechanics, however, there are more and more barefoot-centric brands turning up in the shoe market these days.


Once you've got your new barefoot shoes, transitioning to them should also be done is a stepped method.


To read more about transitioning the safeway, check out my next blog


The Mechanical Benefits of Barefoot Running

Running barefoot changes the game. It's not just a matter of removing the cushion beneath your feet. It's about changing your gait, your posture, and your whole relationship with the ground (Franklin, Grey, Heneghan, Bowen, & Li, 2021). Let's look at some of the mechanical benefits:


1. Natural Shock Absorption

Running shoes often encourage heel striking, which sends shock waves up our legs with each stride. Barefoot running promotes a more natural forefoot or midfoot strike, reducing these impact forces.


2. Strengthening of the Foot

With the absence of supportive shoes, your feet need to work harder. This can strengthen the small muscles in your feet and lower legs, enhancing balance and stability.


3. Increased Proprioception

Your feet are rich in sensory nerves. By running barefoot, you improve your body's understanding of its position and movements, contributing to better balance and coordination.


4. Altered Running Biomechanics

Running barefoot or with minimalist shoes can alter your biomechanics, reducing knee loading and possibly mitigating the risk of running-related injuries (Hall, Folland, & Pritchard, 2021).


It's not all roses, though. It's important to remember that a transition to barefoot running should be slow and gradual to prevent injuries, such as stress fractures or Achilles tendonitis, due to the new stressors applied to the feet and lower legs (Tam et al., 2020). Hence, step one: consult an osteopath in Narre Warren or your local area.


Frequently Asked Questions

To finish off, let's tackle a few questions you might have:

Q1: Can I run barefoot anywhere? Running on soft grass or sand is a great start. Avoid rough surfaces or areas with potential hazards. As your feet adapt, you can gradually include harder surfaces.


Q2: Can everyone transition to barefoot running? Not everyone. People with certain pre-existing conditions, like diabetes or peripheral neuropathy, should avoid it. Hence the importance of seeing an osteopath before starting.


Q3: Will I be slower running barefoot? Initially, you might be slower as you adapt to the new running form. With time and practice, you may find your speed returns and perhaps even improves.


Conclusion

Just as it's refreshing to walk barefoot on the beach or through a grassy park, barefoot running can be a liberating and beneficial experience. However, it should be approached with care, respect for your body's limits, and ideally, with professional guidance.


If you're ready to explore this journey, why not make an appointment with Gravity Osteopathy, your go-to osteopath in Narre Warren? We're just a stone's throw away from the surrounding suburbs of Hallam, Berwick, Cranbourne, Clyde, Clyde North, and Endeavour Hills. Together, we'll ensure your transition to barefoot running is smooth, safe, and rewarding.


Remember, the best health investment is one that keeps you moving, laughing, and perhaps occasionally frolick ing through the fields with your bare feet kissing the earth. And if you can do it while reducing the risk of injury and improving your biomechanics, why not give it a shot?

Here's to feeling the wind in our hair, the sun on our faces, and the grass under our feet. Who knew our ancestors were such trendsetters?


H2: References

Franklin, S., Grey, M. J., Heneghan, N., Bowen, L., & Li, F. X. (2021). Barefoot vs common footwear: A systematic review of the kinematic, kinetic and muscle activity differences during walking. Gait & Posture, 81, 53-61.

Hall, J. P. L., Folland, J., & Pritchard, W. (2021). Biomechanical and physiological responses to 12 weeks of barefoot running training in recreationally active individuals. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 121(5), 1449-1459.

Lieberman, D. E. (2020). Why we run barefoot. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 9(1), 3-6.

Murphy, K., Curry, E. J., & Matzkin, E. G. (2020). Barefoot running: does it prevent injuries? Sports Medicine, 50(10), 1769-1776.

Tam, N., Tucker, R., Santos-Concejero, J., & Prins, D. J. (2020). Barefoot running and hip kinematics: good news for the knee? Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 52(5), 1086-1094.

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