Foot Pain After Running? Go Barefoot for Recovery

Foot pain after running is often due to swelling of the metatarsal fat pads or soft tissue else where in the foot.

As a result, runners are quick to encase the foot in a cushioned shoe with support under the assumption that the foot is a highly fragile unit of the body. This is a myth.

Foot Pain After Running? Go Barefoot for Recovery

Minimalist footwear enhance foot recovery better than cushioned, supportive runnng shoes
Sure your feet hurt after running sometimes, but that doesn’t mean encasing them in a shoe or completely immobilizing them has any health advantages.

When it comes to foot pain after running, the last thing to do is encase the foot in a stiff running shoe. Instead, the best method to promote foot recovery is through barefoot adaptations.

The basic assumption is that when the foot is sore after running, it needs to be immobilized to prevent further ‘injury’. However, immobilizing the foot with the traditional running shoe slows recovery rather than accelerates it. How so?

  • The traditional running shoe prevents the foot from yielding normal loading which in turn, increases the risk of atrophy in the intrinsic foot musculature and other internal foot structures. This is how the traditional running shoe slows recovery and contributes to foot weakness.

Barefoot for Foot Pain After Running

Walking barefoot with foot pain after running has a direct route to accelerate recovery. Why?  Because to build up foot strength, the sensory receptors (proprioceptors) in the plantar surface of the feet need to be always be activated.

  • Running shoes reduce sensory traffic thereby preventing the ‘building-up’ of foot strength needed to accelerate recovery.  With that knowledge, diminished sensory feedback at the foot eventually leads to injury.

Even more telling, a study by Robbins and Waked found that participants who performed barefoot activity had better protective sensations compared to the shod condition.

  • Participants wearing running shoes unknowingly reached higher levels of impact than they were aware of!
  • Running shoes were also found to augment impact because the participants altered their landing behavior to optimize stability.

The researchers affirmed that barefoot activity is the solution to injuries, particularly injuries of the foot, in runners simply because plantar sensory feedback is amplified to the fullest.

The take home message is that running shoes interfere with the natural signaling of the plantar surface. And despite advancements in shoe technology over the past 30 years, a problem has remained: many runners still suffer foot pain after running!

Robbin and Waked also found that the most destabilizing conditions were surfaces with the most softest material. Why?

Because the body perceives soft surfaces, including soft running shoes, as unstable and thus the body acts to compress the cushioned material to optimize stability. This is means that the body struggles to reach/find a stable surface when in a cushioned running shoe. Now you can begin to appreciate how running shoes can exacerbate foot pain after running, and that going barefoot is the wisest choice for better recovery.

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References:

American Society for Testing and Materials. Standard test method for rubber property-durometer hardness. In: Annual book of ASTM standards. Philadelphia: ASTM Publishers, 1988 (09.01):596-600.

Robbins SE, Hanna AM, Gouw GJ. Overload protection: avoidance response to heavy plantar surface loading. Med Sci Sports Exer, 1988;20:85-92.

Robbins S and Waked E. Balance and vertical impact in sports: role of shoe sole materials. Arch Phys Med Rehabil, 1997; 78, 463-67.

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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