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Barefoot running as a strengthening exercise

Posted by M. Rao on 6/25/03 at 11:57 (122907)

Greetings all,

I as wondering if the docs here have any knowledge and/or opinions on barefoot running as a form of physical therapy for PF sufferers. I have been reading studies and discussions from sources such as,


I have had PF for over 2.5 years - no morning pain, and not localized to the heel. It came on suddenly after running my fourth marathon in Oct. 2000. After not having run at all for about 1.5 years, I have recently begun a barefoot running self-experiment. I have run 3 times so far on grass for about 20-25 minutes with breaks. Although there is some discomfort (often no worse than my normal PF pain) for a day or so after a run, I tend to feel the same or actually *better* the rest of the time.

Any thoughts in this area?


Re: Barefoot running as a strengthening exercise

Dorothy on 6/25/03 at 16:12 (122925)

I am not a doctor and I do not do barefoot running or running of any kind unless I inadvertently get caught in a pedestrian crosswalk among impatient automobile drivers. However, I have puzzled about issues that are implied in your question - for example, our 'natural' state is a shoeless one. Our feet, ankles, calves, knees, hips, backs, necks are all 'designed' to work in coordinated balance with our structure and with the world they encounter. A most common recommendation for PF on the message board is never to go barefoot - yet that seems to be so counterintuitive. I have wondered what is the incidence of PF and related disorders in societies where being barefoot, and also running barefoot, is the norm versus wearing shoes. I see the Kenyans or Ethiopians running marathons or practicing in their home countries on all sorts of surfaces - and I wonder: where are the foot problems? I have recently photographs of various people in various Middle Eastern countries, many of them seem to be quite overweight (male and female), wearing what appear to be completely unsupporting footwear that is quite worn out and they are walking long distances, carrying heavy loads - and I wonder: where are the wincing facial expressions indicating foot pain? I am sorry I cannot answer your question and contribute to your point, but I think it raises a number of very interesting questions - and I thank you for the very interesting links, too.

Re: Barefoot running as a strengthening exercise

M. Rao on 6/25/03 at 17:12 (122941)

Hi Dorothy,

The points that you raise seem to reflect what some in the sports medicine community are also thinking. It looks like what we really need to see are more systematic studies that attempt to discern the effects of barefoot vs. shod activity on the feet. It does seem, anecdotally anyway, that the prevalence of foot-related disorders is lower in countries that do not rely as heavily on 'supportive' footwear.

I am willing to try a little barefoot running to see what it does. I am very curious, though, to hear what the medical community thinks of all of this.

Thanks for the reply. Perhaps this will engender more discussion.


Re: Barefoot running as a strengthening exercise

Aly R. on 6/26/03 at 09:37 (122987)

Please post again after trying this - I'm curious about how your feet will react to it. I would think barefoot running would be a great preventative for the healthy-footed, but I'm worried to try it with a bad case of PF...

I think you've brought up something very interesting - I hope some of the doctors will respond to your comment about our reliance on supportive footwear.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the beach & walked barefoot (in the wet sand) for the first time in a year! It was SO NICE!! And no pain at all. However, within a couple of minutes a number of muscles in my foot that I never knew I had were notably fatigued (But there were no problems in the arch / heel area as I'd expected). I realized that all the time I spend in expensive supportive shoes, combined with always avoiding standing or walking, has really weakened the other muscles of my feet.

I presume these other muscles are necessary ! - so I wonder if the weakness that results from trying to protect the feet actually
contributes to the long healing time with PF...

Re: Barefoot running as a strengthening exercise

M. Rao on 6/26/03 at 12:28 (122996)

I agree - I would not recommend that anyone with bad PF try running barefoot without consulting a doc first. My case is chronic, yet mild and predictable (e.g., I know what causes pain and how to make it stop). And as a one-time distance runner, I have an understanding of 'good pain' vs. 'bad pain' and can, thus, pull back or stop when my body sends signals.

I will let everyone know how things turn out. So far after 3 runs on grass, nothing has gotten worse. The most noticeable thing is the workout that my calves have been getting - very sore, but not in a bad way!