Can barefoot running help with running injuries?
It’s not uncommon for a runner to get injured at some point in its training life. Sometimes the cause of the injury is obvious, and sometimes it is not. However an injury normally brings two problems: pain from the injury and the pain from not being able to run.
As much as it ‘pains’ me to say: it’s a shame, but an Osteopath can get injured too! Yes, we also experience the exact same worries as the rest of our patients. Not being able to do your sport can be very annoying.
I run regularly and I am a member of the Manchester Frontrunners club. I am a fairly mediocre runner but quite keen to improve. Back at Christmas I signed up for my first half marathon, I upped my training and three weeks down the line, the back of my left foot started to hurt while running. I seemed to have developed a common runner’s injury: Achilles tendinopathy.
I thought a couple of weeks rest and lots of stretching should make it go… but it wasn’t happening. Finally I took two months off running, I stretched like mad, I had some treatment, some specific exercises at the gym and changed trainers. It didn’t hurt anymore, until I started running again, and then the pain was back!
Running on the treadmill or outside was equally painful. I started to think there was something in the way I run that was stopping me from getting better.
Running and posture: the ‘Alexander Technique’ and ‘barefoot running’
Some years ago I took a workshop on the use of the ‘Alexander Technique and running’ and it was the end of my on-going shin-splints. I learnt that running was a whole body-posture exercise: you run with your whole body and not only with your legs. Keeping the neck straight, using your arms and avoiding heel striking was the recipe.
I thought my running technique was really good, until, years later, a different pain arrived. So, I did some more research and came across ‘barefoot running’.
If one observes different people running, it’s easy to see how everybody runs in a different way, also changing as we journey from mile one to mile 10, as the body tires.
Barefoot runners claim that wearing over-cushioned trainers can sometimes stop the foot sending the right information to the brain on how it is landing on the ground: this is called ‘propriception’. Most injuries in the extremities can bring a level of loss ‘propriception’. This means that, to an extent, if you have for example, an ankle sprain, you will need to ‘retrain’ your ankle so it doesn’t twist and further sprain shortly after recovery.
Most of the running shoes can be quite padded in the heel, which barefoot runners claim can promote ‘heel striking’. This is a problem: barefoot runners think that landing on your heel is unnatural to the body and this type of running makes you more prone to injury.
Through my experience as a therapist, I have seen a few runners coming for treatment after they have changed trainers, when a knee or an ankle pain has developed. I have developed some concerns regarding shoe technology for runners. One would imagine that so many different shoe solutions would have finished running injuries, but this seems to be far from the truth.
I decided I wanted to make up my own mind. Given that I was a bit worried of running barefoot on the streets of Manchester, I got what the barefoot people call a ‘minimum shoe’. They have no arch support and they are basically like a bit of wrapping for the foot.
So three weeks down the line I am running 3-4 times a week, a maximum of 6 K at a time. I am still mixing treadmill and runs outside. Now my pain has decreased a bit. I guess the interesting bit is that it has not increased with this type of running, which to me is already something. I also went for a 10 K run in normal trainers the other day, and the pain didn’t bother me much either.
I am really aware that these weeks of barefoot running have really made me change the way I run, and the benefit appears to be sustained when I am also in trainers too. Now, the downside is that I can get a bit of soreness on the ball of the foot, but nothing too dramatic.
Now my plan is to keep building up the barefoot running for the next months, but still doing the odd run on trainers until I can manage a 10 K run without a problem. I must admit I am starting to believe there may be some goodness in it…. but it’s still early days. I don’t think running barefoot would make me a faster runner, I think most possibly it will be the opposite, but if it helps me being injury free then it’s more than welcome. I should keep reporting.
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