How Running Barefoot Reduces Pronation of the Foot

When running barefoot, the foot undergoes less fluctuations in pronation compared to that of running in a cushioned running shoe.

  • Countless reports have found that running barefoot is associated with the least amount of pronation of the foot, therefore running barefoot is expected to show a low risk of injury.
Running barefoot reduces pronation of the foot
Barefoot running results in less supination at touchdown and smaller changes during stance phase.

Running Shoes Trigger Pronation of the Foot

In running, excessive pronation, or too much movement of the heel during foot-ground contact has been thought to cause injuries, yet substantially contributing to these injuries are the running shoes.

Running shoes increase pronation of the foot
Most running shoes cause heel strike which triggers greater rearfoot movements.

Cushioned heeled running shoes (the traditional running shoe) seems to amplify pronation of the foot by causing a heel strike landing. Thus, to reduce pronation of the foot, running shoes are made with stronger heel counters. But do heel counters really work? Not really since heel strikers injure more than forefoot strikers

When running barefoot, a forefoot strike landing is the most common landing which results in less supination at touchdown and smaller changes during stance phase.

Also, forefoot running when barefoot results in a high degree of inversion before touchdown which indicates the foot is ‘reaching’ for the ground. And when speed increases, this inversion increases which is controlled until the heel reaches the ground.

  • This relation between inversion and running barefoot was evolved by the body as a strategy to decrease impact at the heel.

The opposite was found in running shoes by which right after touchdown, the forefoot is very rapidly everted. Running shoes change the movement of the feet by forcing them into faster forefoot eversion.

Stacoff et al. found that when running barefoot the foot remained supinated during the stance phase whereas running shoes forced the feet into extreme positions. Therefore, running barefoot is associated with less pronation variability compared to shod running.

Further, the movement fluctuations of the foot inside a running shoe is related to frictional problems such as blisters, slipping and torisonal movements inside the shoe.

And most running shoes are very stiff which leads to higher initial pronation also.

The take home message is the traditional running shoe triggers rearfoot movements considerably different from that of running barefoot, yet running barefoot is associated with the least amount of pronation of the foot as well as injury; again highlighting the fact that barefoot running is profoundly safer than running in well-cushioned shoes.

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References:

Cavanah, P.R. Running Shoe Book. Mountain View, CA: Anderson world, 1980, PP. 78–121

Luethi et al. The influence of the shoe on foot mechanics and running. Med Sport Sci, 1987; 25:70-85

Nigg et al. Factors influencing kinetic and kinematic variables in running. In: Biomechanics of Running Shoes, BM Nigg (Ed). Campaign, IL; human kinetics, 96, PP. 1– 26.

Stacoff et al. The torsion of the foot in running. J Sports Biomech, 1989; 5:375-89.

Stacoff et al. The effects of shoes on the torsion and rearfoot motion in running. Med Sci Sport Exer, 1991; 23(4): 482-90.

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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