Washington: Barefoot running can be beneficial while heavily cushioned running shoes may be leaving the foot prone to injury, according to a US sports medicine expert.
Irene Davis of Harvard University has been studying both barefoot running and minimal footwear running, which uses a type of running shoe almost like a glove for the foot, but with a thin layer of rubber on the bottom.
These shoes give the foot its full range of natural movement, but protect the sole from stones or extreme surface temperatures.
Davis, a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association, said cushioned running shoes encourage runners to land hard on the heel at the end of each stride.
"When you land on your heel you end up with a very quick rise to peak in the force that your body experiences. That completely goes away when you run barefoot because you land on the ball of your foot," said Davis.
Davis and co-authors tested their theories by looking at Kenyan runners.
"We wanted to find if people who had never worn shoes before demonstrated the same kind of running pattern," said Davis.
"We felt that was a better indication of how we were naturally meant to run because these individuals had never worn shoes. When we tested (the runners) in Kenya, we found exactly those same kinds of mechanics. They don`t land on their heels, they land with a very gentle forefoot strike pattern," she said.
Once you remove the shoe and take away the artificial shock absorber, the tendons and muscles in the foot, the ankle, calf and thigh start to do the job they were built for, Davis said.
She said that causes some runners pain because they aren`t used to using those muscles to control the foot and absorb shock, and they tend to overdo it in the initial stages.
"We`ve basically deconditioned our feet by wearing shoes and by wearing very robust motion controlling and cushioning shoes, which takes away some of the function of the foot," she said.
Davis said she has also found that running barefoot can help flatfooted people to strengthen and raise the arches.
The study was presented at the 2011 Australasian Podiatry Conference in Melbourne.