When Patients Ask About Barefoot Running

Since the release of Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run” (published 2009) there has been a significant increase in the hype of barefoot running and minimalist shoes.

Barefoot Running Concerns University Foot and Ankle InstituteWhen I am confronted by a patient inquiring on my thoughts of them trying barefoot running or minimalist shoes, I first ask the patient their underlying motivation for doing so. Most common responses are fueled by the hype, a history of chronic injury, or the desire to run faster and more efficiently.

Whether or not I recommend barefoot running depends on several factors. Initially I begin by taking a thorough running history of the patient. Pertinent questions include:

  • What types of running-related injuries the patient has sustained in the past?
  • Whether the patient has any current injuries?
  • What types of surfaces the patient runs on?
  • The patient’s age?
  • What types of shoes the patient currently runs in, and types of shoes worn in the past?
  • Whether the patient has attempted barefoot/minimalist running in the past?

I will then assess the patient’s running biomechanics to judge whether the runner has feet stable enough to handle barefoot running. I am unlikely to recommend barefoot running to the following categories of runners who are predisposed to running-related injuries:

  • Beginners
  • Older runners
  • Heavier runners
  • Those that are habitually shod

Contrast the following categories of runners that may well tolerate barefoot running and reap some of its benefits:

  • Experienced long distance runners
  • Younger runners
  • Normal body weight
  • Frequently barefoot

One of the key differences between barefoot/minimalist running and the “traditional” running shoes is that you land more on the forefoot in barefoot/minimalist shoes. Though this acts to decrease the stress placed on the knees, it shifts a greater amount of stress to the ankle and foot, especially in the Achilles and the metatarsals.

It is of utmost importance to emphasize to patient’s interested in trying barefoot/minimalist running that this should be a very gradual transition. The transition will alter a runner’s form and function, which necessarily causes previously dormant muscles and joints to fire. These muscles and joints need time to strengthen gradually so it is imperative those runners making the barefoot/minimalist transition ramp up their mileage slowly to avoid overstress and injury.

This trend is on the rise and therefore much of the definitive scientific evidence on the subject is still out for debate. The sports medicine podiatrist is a perfect place to begin when considering transitioning to barefoot/minimalist running.

For an appointment with a doctors at one of our nine Southern California locations please call 877-989-9110 or visit us at www.footankleinstitute.com

The UFAI Education Team

The UFAI Education Team

For almost fifteen years, University Foot and Ankle Institute and their nationally recognized physicians have been providing the most technologically advanced medical care for the foot and ankle with the highest success rates in the country.

As a teaching institution, University Foot and Ankle Institute’s Fellowship Program is among the most advanced in the nation.

We at UFAI are driven to get our patients back to their normal activities with the highest level of function, in the least amount of time, using the least invasive treatments possible. From start to finish, we are with you every step of the way.

The UFAI Education Team works to help empower our patients and website visitors with the most up-to-date information about foot and ankle conditions, treatment options, recovery and injury prevention. Our goal is to pass on truly useful information to our readers.

We hope you enjoy our work and find it of value. Please let us know!
The UFAI Education Team


  1. I had no idea that barefoot running was something that people did. It makes sense that more experienced runners would be the ones who would opt to try out this style of running. I’m more of an intermediate, but I’ll have to check with my podiatrist and see if this is something that would benefit me. Thanks for posting this awesome info!

  2. My friends are always telling me that I should try barefoot running, but I haven’t tried it for fear of getting hurt. I’m not a very good runner, so this might not be the trend for me. I might still talk to my podiatrist about it in the future, though, in case I feel like trying it out.

    • Thanks for your comment. You certainly will want to talk to your doctor before trying it. There is a lot of evidence that this is not a good way to run for most people. Not just because of the large risk of puncture wounds but because it can be a lot tougher on the body as well as the foot and ankle. Your approach is a wise one before trying it you. Good luck!

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