Although stars such as Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson are huge fans of “barefoot running” shoes, Vibram, the company that produces the FiveFingers Shoes brand just paid out $3.75 million to settle a class action suit due to false claims made by the company. I’ve never been a big fan of these crazy shoes because they just didn’t make sense to me. After all how could these minimalist shoes do all they said they could do including strengthen your feet and lower legs muscles, improve range of motion, eliminate heel lift to align the spine, improve posture, balance and agility. And it's not only the false claims; runners can experience problems that result from wearing these shoes, particularly if they already have a foot condition that can put them at risk.
The American Podiatric Medical Association has a position statement which includes the following about barefoot running. “Risks of barefoot running include a lack of protection, which may lead to injuries such as puncture wounds, and increased stress on the lower extremities.” One study of barefoot running shoes conducted 10 months ago by Sarah Ridge and others at Brigham Young University found no signs of injury in runners who wore regular shoes but in minimalist shoe runners they found bone marrow edema, an early sign of bone injury. As a result she recommends that if someone starts running with barefoot shoes they should do so gradually.
There are people who should avoid running with barefoot shoes altogether because they have certain foot conditions.
- Diabetes and neuropathy – those with diabetes often have neuropathy which changes the ability to sense the ground and feel pain. Although those with neuropathy may be able to run over stones and glass with regular tennis shoes and not injure themselves, as the APMA states above there is increased risk of obtaining a puncture wound when running barefoot. Those who don't notice the puncture due to lack of pain receptors in the feet may wind up seeing me at Northwest Hospital's Wound Clinic.
- Plantar fasciitis – if you have pain in your feet with first steps in the morning you likely have plantar fasciitis. For patients with this condition I recommend a sturdy athletic shoe and often orthotics. Minimalist running shoes are not sturdy nor can they take an orthotic.
- Flat feet – although it would seem that flat feet are ideal for a barefoot running shoe, they aren’t. If you have flat feet you likely need more support, not less.
Although some celebrities may still flaunt barefoot running even after the Vibram lawsuit, you should only wear them after informing yourself of all the risks. If you sustain a puncture or other injury from barefoot running, you can call us at the Foot and Ankle Center of Lake City at 206-368-7000.