Should you be exercising barefoot?

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Barefoot running has been gaining in popularity within the past decade after several studies suggested it could decrease foot injuries by placing less of an impact on the heel.

“It is clear that the muscles in the arch of the foot are stronger in barefoot runners than people who run in normal shoes,” Bon Secours St. Francis Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Jay Womack said.

However, he cautioned that does have its drawbacks.

“If you’re honest with yourself, those people are really limiting their mileage or frequency of running relative to someone who’s wearing normal running shoes,” he said. “We think people develop more stress fractures or injuries in their foot as a result of barefoot running because they really try to jump right into it and replace it with normal running.”

The barefoot running movement led to the popularity of a webbed shoe with little to no padding and “Zero Drop” minimalist shoes that have a thin, flat insole, but Dr. Womack suggested choosing a running shoe with a thicker insole, a thicker sole and a good construction.

If you are going to try running barefoot or with minimalist shoes, he suggested transitioning slowly to avoid stress fractures.

“Do what we consider as a walk jog program,” he said. “You may walk for 8 or 9 minutes and jog for a minute. Work your way up to make sure your body can get used to these things.”

He believes stress fractures are much less of an issue when it comes to other exercises that involve being barefoot, like yoga, barefoot Zumba or Barre classes.

“Those exercises are fantastic… really, what’s worrisome with a foot is repetitive impact exercise,” he said.

Dr. Womack said stress fractures are most common in people who change or intensify their exercise activities and suggests getting care right away if you have any pain in your foot to avoid bigger problems down the road. Stress fractures that are left untreated, he said, could worsen and lead to larger bone breaks that require painful surgery and a long recovery time.

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