Does Barefoot Running Cause Injuries?


[Image credit: ClintJCL]

For all of the articles that pop up out there about barefoot running and it’s benefits, there are some naysayers out there. Recently, Matt Fitzgerald wrote about the topic on

The article goes on to raise a pretty hefty case against the barefoot/natural running movement, asserting that we should look beyond just feet when considering the biomechanics of barefoot running, and include potential spinal issues and existing bio-structural problems.

Despite the articles claims’ of a “surge” of barefoot running related injuries, it admits that “what is not known is whether barefoot runners are now disproportionately represented in physical therapy and sports medicine facilities—in other words, whether barefoot runners are more likely to develop overuse injuries than shod runners.” To that end, can any of the doctors and sports therapists interviewed truly claim that there is such a high incidence of injury? To back up this claim, the therapists interviewed point to the rise of plantar fasciitis. I’ve never heard this injury described as uncommon; I suffered from it myself before switching to barefoot running.

The piece goes on to state that not everyone is born to run, despite the claims, and that shoes aid people who might otherwise not be able to pick up the sport. Additionally, “one thing all of the medical professionals I interviewed for this article agree on is that many runners have no business even trying to run barefoot. ‘Runners who have what I call biomechanically disadvantaged feet need shoes, and often orthotics too,’ says Maharam.” Is this just another instance of the running shoe industry trying to over-engineer our natural stride?

Though well-researched and well-written, this article brings up a lot of controversial topics. While the article claims to not be skewed towards anti-barefoot running advocates, it feels as though there is a certain active encouragement to not pursue barefoot running.

It seems logical that some injuries would increase as more people try a new (old?) style of running. If folks are getting heel injuries while running barefoot, they’re not doing it right...

The article may instill fear in those who are just starting out, turning them from the potential path of barefoot or natural running.

Give it a read and let us know - what do you think? Does this change how you look at barefoot-style running?

Read it in full here:

7 thoughts on “Does Barefoot Running Cause Injuries?”


  • By Tony

    I've been trail-running in minimalist shoes for a few years now. I began barefoot running or running in Vibrams about 2 years ago. However, last Fall I was running in the Vibrams and began to feel what became worse...Plantar Fasciitis. I am very knowlegeable on the correct way to run barefoot/minimalist, and yet I developed a VERY bad case of PF. I was unable to run, or hardly walk for that matter, for almost 4 months. After steroid injections and exercises, I was finally able to run again. I run barefoot on the beach with no problems. But as soon as I began running barefoot on the streets...the PF hit again! What is going on?

  • By Edgar

    I also think barefoot runners get different injuries than shod runners. For example: Plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis seem to be more common than say, problems with the Iliotibial band (Runner's knee), Heel spurs or Shin splints. If people were warned about symptoms of common injuries before starting out I think the number of injuries would go down drastically. In brief I think barefoot runners should be warned against OTHER injuries than shod runners.

    I think Anton Krupicka says it well:

    "I think some people look at minimalist shoes as a panacea, but that's definitely not what it's about. Wearing a minimal shoes doesn't automatically make you a better runner. It sort of forces you to become a better runner."

  • By Skora

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  • By maria peterman

    Where can i find your shoes. are your shoes in production yet? would like to possibly carry your product in my store

  • By Adam

    I think statistics is a tricky science, Michael, and you may be making large-scale assumptions as to why you are seeing such an increase in barefoot running injuries. First, I would point out that you are also conceding that 94-95% of your injured running clients are shod runners. Not a statistic to brag about, either.

    Furthermore, the question becomes that albeit a small population of runners, how many of your current bf injured were runners before running barefoot? More to the point, were they even active? I have more than a few friends who have never been active despite trying shod running. Once running with barefeet they found a freedom in movement they never thought they could, so have joined the droves of active people the world over. Point being, I would like to see a statistic that parallels the life-cycle of barefoot runners...from beginning runners in their youth to their old age, and this statistic would tell us how many LIFELONG runners are injured, barefoot vs shod.

    The shod running population is a much more static number. I'm not surprised to not see massive changes in their injury rates (which are atrocious, by the way).

    On point with the article, however, I do agree that there are hosts of other issues at play in injuries than just the shoes. Spinal alignment is a big one, especially since our sedentary lifestyle leads to underdeveloped gluteus and lower ab muscles, and an anterior pelvic tilt. Gluteus Medius muscles are further reduced by lifetimes of shod walking/running, so it can be easy to overdo it when transition to barefoot. I think we definitely need to be holistic in our approach to betterment and not just focus on one item (shoes) as being the problem. I think our diet is probably very culpable, too.

    That said, ditching the shoes is certainly, in my opinion, a very apparent area where we can improve ourselves easily. Or, even if not fully bare, at least a minimal shoe that doesn't inhibit natural movement, like a Skora shoe!

  • By Michael Smith

    Yep, there is a massive increase in injuries being seen in physical therapy and running injury clinics due to barefoot or minimalist running. In my clinic, probably 5-6% of the running injuries we see are in barefoot runners. I have no idea how many people are running barefoot, but assume its way less than 1%, so this should be raising alarm bells.

  • This article seems to weigh on the side of anti-barefoot running by throwing around the word “epidemic” in an inflammatory and possibly inaccurate fashion. I agree that the “surge” of injuries claim lies on a shaky foundation. I’m not sure why proponents of either side of the argument feel so comfortable asserting such claims in the absence of sufficient evidence.

    The unintentional thesis statement that jumped out of the article was “The more barefoot runners there are, the more injured barefoot runners there will be.” Barefoot running is a trend that is gaining popularity. More people are running (regardless of how) and more people are getting hurt. I am underwhelmed by this revelation.

    That being said, I appreciate this article calling out the nonsensical arguments of the barefoot dogma, such as:

    “It’s totally misleading to tell people that when they get injured running in shoes, it’s the shoe’s fault, and when they get injured running barefoot, it’s the athlete’s fault. It makes no sense. You’re going to have injuries either way. It’s running.”

    Barefoot runners may guffaw at the final assertion of guaranteed injuries, but as someone who developed shin splints for the first time in my life after switching exclusively to Vibrams, I’m annoyed by the tendency to write-off mounting anecdotal evidence or to always blame injuries on the runner’s form.

    Equally irritating is the false dichotomy created by barefoot dogma proponents and barefoot haters; that there are two ways to run and one is correct. Running for me is not a moral choice between two camps of thought. Can I be so bold as to point out that both sides stand to gain financially from convincing consumers that their doctrine is right and the other is wrong? Those peddling these ideas tend to fall under the following categories: podiatrists, PhDs, big shoe companies, start-up shoe companies, authors, gurus, etc. The blatant conflict of interest forces me to take this information with a hefty grain of salt and pay more attention to information coming from runners who have no strings (or laces) attached.

    I think that an honest and objective runner will take a moderated approach and tend to stay out of this usually pointless back and forth between the sides. False pretenses are perpetuated by both sides of the “argument” and I can’t help but feel like I’m participating in an advertising campaign when I weigh in with either side.

    Ultimately I don’t care how the scientific evidence pans out. I will continue barefoot/minimalist running because I enjoy it. I will also run with heretical cushioned moon boots from time to time. However, I will not pretend that running barefoot is a magical injury force field/fountain of youth/nirvana. Minimalist footwear and barefoot running are new, exciting options that allow runners to choose what suits them best for a given situation or a desired outcome.

    Apologies in advance for the extended rant/gripe. I appreciate your steps toward an open dialogue by posting this article on your blog.

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