Forefoot Running with Cold Feet: Minimalist Footwear Provides Stability When You Can’t Feel Your Feet

Aside from increasing the risk of nerve damage, forefoot running, or any style of running, with cold feet makes you prone to balance error. Patel et al. (2011) found that hypothermic feet had a 201% reduction in cutaneous vibrations of the plantar surface.

  • Cutaneous vibration of the foot is important for mediating rapid corrections in body posture. Therefore, cold feet affects a runner’s proclivity to run with stability because posture is compromised.

The situation is made worse if cushioned running shoes are worn because balance impairments stem from cushioning under the plantar surface.

Forefoot running with cold feet
Under hypothermic conditions, the feet perform better in a shoe that lacks cushioning, such as the Vibram FiveFingers.

If you can’t avoid running with cold feet, at least wear pure minimalist footwear because they do a better job at maintaining high tactile plantar sensitivity compared to soft, cushy non-minimalist shoes. The problem is, the cushioned material of a soft, non-minimalist running shoe is associated with reduced reliability of plantar mechanoreceptive information.

Another point to mention is Kennedy and Inglis (2002) found that plantar tactile sensitivity was unaffected under hypothermic conditions, suggesting that the central nervous system is still able to monitor pressure distribution under the feet. With that in mind, shoe cushioning interferes with tactile sensory input, further challenging balance control when the feet are cold.

The Take Home Message

Runners who experience cold feet when running are more likely to encounter balance challenges if a cushioned shoe is worn. Minimalist running shoes prevent balance challenges from being exacerbated under hypothermic conditions because the lack of cushioning does not alter sensory information.

Even when you can’t feel your feet because they are cold, minimalist footwear keeps reliable sensory information flowing between the plantar surface and the central nervous system to help avoid injury.

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Kennedy P, Inglis J (2002) Distribution and behaviour of glabrous cutaneous receptors in the human foot sole. J Physiol 538(3):995–1002.

Petal et al. Foam posturography: standing on foam is not equivalent to standing with decreased rapidly adapting mechanoreceptive sensation. Exp Brain Res, 2011;208, 519-527.

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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