Thursday, June 14, 2012

Barefoot when possible

I have posted about this before, the benefits of going barefoot when possible, and still I feel compelled to reiterate my thoughts, especially when I come across an article such as the one I did today; "Born to run barefoot? Some end up getting injured". 

The gist of the article is about the growing popularity of this "new trend" of running barefoot, and how many are suffering the unexpected consequences (injury).  It talks about how runners are ditching their favorite sneaks for a chance to go unshod, only to find that injury is lurking around the next turn.  Their stories seem to be the same, they lose the shoes, practice barefoot on the grass, and eventually take back to the streets graduating to either barefoot running or running with shoes that mimic barefoot running.  In either case though the stories seem to end the same, with the runner suffering from tiny fractures in the foot.

Before I point out what I feel is the obvious reason for these injuries, I want to once again talk about why I feel so strongly about going barefoot (walking or running) when possible.  For many years I suffered from what the podiatrist called "severe tendonitis" in both my feet, caused by what he claimed was my high arches as well as my overuse (running).  I went down the traditional path of cortisone shots, "better" (more expensive) shoes, and eventually molded orthotics.  I was told that I would most likely never be able to walk let alone run again without using these hard unforgiving man-made torture devices.  So as you can probably guess it wasn't long until I gave up on the traditional rout, and decided to go the more natural road-less- followed.  I purchased my first pair of MBT's or the "anti-shoe" as they call them, and never looked back.  The idea behind the MBT, or "barefoot technology" as they called it at the time, was that the foot was designed to walk over softer uneven surfaces working the muscles (not tendons) allowing the foot to flex, bend, cradle, and do whatever comes naturally; basically to allow the foot to work how the human foot has evolved to work.  This way of thinking says that its today's confining, overly supportive, and highly restrictive shoes that greatly restrict muscle activation and overwork the tendons.  Add that to the flat, hard, man-made surfaces that humans walk on (shod or unshod), and it becomes a little more obvious as to why modern day humans suffer from so many foot injuries.

So to get back to the article at hand, I feel that it's not the "barefoot" aspect of this growing trend amongst runners that is causing these injuries, but rather the surface they are ultimately running on that deserves the blame.  Whether you are running barefoot on the street or sidewalk, or running in the many available verities of running shoes that are designed to mimic barefoot running, you can't escape the fact that the surface below your feet is NOT what we were designed to walk or run on.  Even natural hard surfaces like rock or stone have some sort of curvature to them, some sort of unevenness to them.  Concrete or asphalt on the other hand is flat, minus the pot holes of course, but as far as the foot is concerned there is no curvature or unevenness beneath it for which to cradle.  The foot was designed (evolved) to, believe it or not, cradle the surface below, kind of like your hands would if you were walking on your hands.  Hence the arch in the foot, not to mention the many muscles that make up the foot.  But when we walk on a surface that is perfectly flat, from the foot's perspective, we now have muscles that don't get worked, aches that get week and need support, and tendons that get overworked.  When you consider that along with the fact that these artificial surfaces like concrete or asphalt don't give and therefore magnify every shock wave generated upon impact, right back up where it originated (the foot), and you have an injury waiting to happen. 

So instead of giving up on the whole barefoot approach, be conscience about where and how you are going about it.  When running barefoot, or with sneakers for that matter, do it on a natural surface like the grass or the beach, and when walking on those unforgiving surfaces make sure you are wearing something that mimics "walking on softer, more natural, uneven surfaces" not simply a shoe that "mimics bare feet".

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