I once considered that barefoot running could be accomplished in a minimalist or rather “barefoot style” running shoes. You know, the type of shoe that has minimal padding thereby apparently encouraging a more “normal” barefoot running style. Living in Sydney's inner west it seems reasonable that I would want to protect my feet from any style of sharp objects that may be lying on the ground. Not being too paranoid, I'm really thinking about glass and such. Indeed, in the past I have recommended this style of shoe for this reason.
What the evidence says.
Unfortunately (1), it shows that as soon as we are shod (wearing shoes) we run differently. Our gait pattern changes so that we no longer run with a barefoot pattern. A pity as barefoot running has been shown to decrease forces across the patell0-femoral joint (2) and the larger tibio-femoral joint of the knee which can really help if you are experiencing pain in these areas.
So, great idea but unfortunately the current studies tend to bust this myth. However don’t despair, landing on a mid/forefoot when running still enables the same effect in reducing forces to the knee joint. So if taking your shoes off isn’t an option, a tiny bit of application and concentration to adapt your running style can still help.
1 - Running in a minimalist and lightweight shoe is not the same as running barefoot: a biomechanical study BJSM 2013: 47: 387 – 392
2 – Take your shoes off to reduce patellofemoral joint stress during running: BJSM 2014; 48: 425 - 428
Jason is the Leichhardt Physiotherapy's practice principal and has been practicing as a physiotherapist for over 16 years