News / USA

Growing Number of Runners Opt to Run in Bare Feet

Barefoot runners says they experience less knee and joint pain when they run without shoes
Barefoot runners says they experience less knee and joint pain when they run without shoes
Elizabeth Lee
LOS ANGELES - A growing number of people are choosing to run without shoes.  Many barefoot runners say running with no shoes actually helps reduce injuries and joint pain. In Los Angeles, the mild weather allows people to run barefoot throughout the year.

Michele Musacchio runs without shoes whenever she can. She started running in her bare feet nine months ago because she was looking for a way to exercise without joint pain.

"My hips had been hurting, my knees had been hurting, not a problem with the running," she said. President of the Los Angeles Barefoot Runners Society, Ken Bob Saxton believes the cause of joint pain is often shoes.

"They allow us to run very sloppily, they allow us to slam our feet into the ground with higher impact with a straight leg with our knee locked up so that all that impact go straight into the knee and into the hips," he said.

Saxton has run 79 marathons in his bare feet.  He says when he sees sharp objects such as glass on the ground he runs around it or on top of it without getting cut.

"Most of the glass just lays there and as long as you come straight down like this and pick your foot up nothing happens," he said.

Harvard University Professor Daniel Lieberman has studied how shoes have changed the way people run. In a Skype interview with VOA, he said 30 to 70 percent of runners suffer injuries.

"Why have we failed to lessen this epidemic of injury? I would argue is that we put too much faith technology in shoes, in orthotics, in things you can buy, and what really matters is how you run," said Lieberman.

Lieberman studied runners, from members of the Harvard track team, to runners in Africa who have never worn shoes. He said barefoot runners have better form.

"They tend to have good posture. They tend to take shorter strides. They tend to not land hard on their heels," he explained.

Lieberman says barefoot runners tend to land on the balls of their feet.  He says most people who run in shoes land on their heel, which could cause damage to the body.

Physical therapist Robert Forster specializes in proper running technique and has worked with Olympic Gold Medalists Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith Joyner. He said running without shoes may help strengthen the foot, but can also lead to foot injuries. 

"I just see it as a movement that’s not necessary," he said. "We just hate to see the injuries that could be avoided because there’s not enough padding in the bottom of the shoe."

Forster has treated injuries caused by running without shoes.

"Bruises at the ball of the foot, especially in the big toe can actually fracture some small bones in those tendons and that can be a real serious problem," he said.

Lieberman says many people get injured running without shoes because they do too much too soon.

"It is true that if somebody who has been wearing shoes their whole life and then suddenly takes off their shoes and go for a 10-mile run, they will injure themselves, for sure. I guarantee it," he said.

He says new barefoot runners have to take it slow and give the body time to adapt.

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