Why are barefoot runners getting so many injuries?

by admin on September 8, 2010

I am going to borrow a statement that I came across on another site, “The Evangelists from the Church of Barefoot Running”. The Evangelists make some very strong statements that one of the main advantages of barefoot running is that you get less injuries (which has no evidence to support that) and that running shoes cause more injuries (which also has no evidence to support that). Is it really true that barefoot runners get less injuries than shod runners?
As there is no published scientific research on this, what can we go by:
1. There appears to be an epidemic of stress fractures in those using the Vibram Five Fingers
2. Pay a visit to any of the barefoot running sites and blogs and just look at how many are asking for advice for their injuries! (the very same sites that are claiming you get less injuries by running barefoot!).
3. Ask those health professionals who see a lot of sports injuries. Barefoot runners probably make up 0.1% – 0.2% of runners, so these health professionals should see about 1 -2 barefoot runners with injuries for every 1000 runners they see if the injury rates are similar. They will tell you that they are seeing substantially higher number of barefoot runners than that. This would suggest that barefoot runners are getting injuries at a greater rate than shoe runners (the opposite of what the Evangelists are claiming!)
4. Look at the emails I get. I do get a lot of emails from barefoot runners who tell me that they are proof that barefoot running causes less injuries as they are now injury free. I alos get just as many emails from those who got an injury from barefoot running (and many of them are bitter about the hype they were spun by the Evangelists). What does that prove? Let’s call it a draw, as no one involved in medical research would accept this as proof. I have no doubt that barefoot running does help some people with their injury profile, but I also have no doubt that it hurts other people. I know too many people who have had injuries from barefoot running and could not continue.

The amusing thing in all of this is that the Evangelists are dismissing the injuries that barefoot runners get as being due to training errors and not due to the barefoot running. Yet in the same breath the will blame running shoes for the injuries in runners that use them. Why can those injuries in those who wear running shoes also not be due to training errors as well? You can’t have it both ways.

We are also not the only one to note this barefoot running injury epidemic. Competitor.com also had a story on the Barefoot Running Epidemic. They said:

Other physical therapists and sports medicine doctors across the country are seeing the same sudden rise in barefoot running injuries.
“We’ve seen a fair amount of injuries from barefoot running already, or from just running in the Vibrams,” says Nathan Koch, PT, Director of Rehabilitation at Endurance Rehab in Phoenix, AZ. Vibrams are the barely-there “foot gloves” that have become popular among barefoot running devotees.Steve Pribut, a Washington, DC podiatrist and one of America’s most respected running injury specialists, says he has experienced a recent influx of barefoot runners at his office as well. And, asked by email whether he could confirm a barefoot running injury trend in his clinical experience, Lewis Maharam, a.k.a “Running Doc,” replied with two words: “Oh, yeah!”

It is clear that barefoot running is not going to be a general solution to running injuries. If anything, the circumstantial evidence is that it puts you at greater risk for an injury. This is the opposite of what the Evangelists are claiming.


Other physical therapists and sports medicine doctors across the country are seeing the same sudden rise in barefoot running injuries.“We’ve seen a fair amount of injuries from barefoot running already, or from just running in the Vibrams,” says Nathan Koch, PT, Director of Rehabilitation at Endurance Rehab in Phoenix, AZ. Vibrams are the barely-there “foot gloves” that have become popular among barefoot running devotees.Steve Pribut, a Washington, DC podiatrist and one of America’s most respected running injury specialists, says he has experienced a recent influx of barefoot runners at his office as well. And, asked by email whether he could confirm a barefoot running injury trend in his clinical experience, Lewis Maharam, a.k.a “Running Doc,” replied with two words: “Oh, yeah!”

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