by Dr. Daniel Kehres

Walking and running barefoot has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. You've probably seen people walking around in those goofy looking toe shoes (including me!). Vibram FiveFinger shoes are designed to be as close to walking barefoot as possible. With a rubber sole and a slot for each toe, these shoes feel like you aren’t wearing shoes at all.

Created in 2006, with two chiropractors serving on the biomechanics advisory board, Vibram FiveFingers have become extremely popular over the past few years. These innovative shoes were created to help people move as naturally as possible.

Many people suffer leg or back pain due to their shoes but don't realize it. Your body is made to walk a certain way and when you alter the way you walk, it can negatively impact the rest of your body. Even the slightest change in your shoes can cause another part of your body to adapt and put more stress on that area, leading to pain.

More than 80 percent of runners suffer a form-related injury each year. When running, it is important to have your foot land flat or on your mid-foot as opposed to running with your heels hitting first. Landing with your foot in this position allows the impact of your foot hitting the ground to be dispersed, instead of your feet taking all of the impact. This dispersion also strengthens your feet and lower legs, reducing the risk of injury.

Average walking and running shoes typically add an inch of padding to the heel of the foot for comfort. This extra padding may seem like a good thing, but it causes many people to become heel dominant when they run, which puts extra stress on the rest of the body. If you go out for a run in Vibrams or barefoot, you will quickly change your running form if you run heel first as you will bruise your heel. When walking barefoot, the impact on the ground helps to strengthen your feet and helps to correct your form. Unfortunately, running has turned into a skill with the invention of shoes as it causes our running form to become unnatural.

When filming your feet running with shoes and without shoes, the difference in running form can be instant. The New Jersey Sports Medicine and Performance center has a great video of this example here.

Another benefit of walking or running barefoot is that it increases the proprioception in your body. Proprioception is the brain/body connection, also known as coordination. The nerves in your feet increase their communication with your brain, leading to better balance, posture, biomechanics and improved running form. Wearing shoes for 8-16 hours a day, as most people do, minimizes proprioception and can eventually lead to loss of balance and greater risk of injury.

Walking and running barefoot or in Vibrams should be done gradually. It is best to start off running on a softer surface, such as grass or a dirt trail. If you have been advised not to run barefoot for any reason, be sure to have your running and/or walking form analyzed by a trained professional.

The closer to barefoot the better, but when Vibram FiveFingers aren't an option, choose shoes without thick soles, air pockets or that cause unnatural gait. For more information, visit VibramFiveFingers.com 

Dr. Dan Kehres, 2010