I figured this Blisstree article on the "dangerous" trend of barefoot might enrage many of you, as it did me.
"“Too much, too soon” seems to be the diagnosis for many runners who’ve tried barefoot and gotten injured. Aside from stress fractures, barefoot runners who don’t take the time to train their feet and re-work their posture can end up with shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and even lower back injuries.
... The Shox that Holiday mentions were part of a long line of ultra-cushioned kicks that were super-popular in previous decades, and that trained a lot of people to run heels-first. But those unnatural shoes have slowly been disregarded as unnecessary–and potentially problematic. Holiday, who sticks to a paleo diet and attends evolutionary health and fitness conferences, says he tries to be as close to what’s natural as is possible (i.e. by not wearing giant, shock-absorbing shoes), but says he also understands that we’re not exactly in the cavemen era anymore:
"I live in New Orleans and in Los Angeles and you see people not only running in Vibrams, but without shoes at all. And it makes me wonder–what is natural about running on this grass, or even on concrete, that’s full of trash and glass? Being natural is important. But we also live in 2012.
"It’s just a shoe that you lace up, and you go for a run, and you put it away. There are more important and more unnatural parts of our lives that deserve the attention. Getting out there and going for the run is what’s important."
The question is: are there legitimate concerns about barefoot running? If so, what are they?
For the most part, there's very little risk from broken glass. There's really not that much araound, most of it is non-sharp 'safety' glass, and if you watch where you're going and run properly then it's an even smaller risk. But there's a massive disconnect between the risks or inconveniences of protecting the foot from the environment and the musculo-skeletal problems modern running shoes cause. It's missing the point hugely to argue that we need shock-absorbing shoes to be able to cope with a surface like concrete.
There's a cost-benefit analysis to going barefoot in modern environs, most accept that risk is a part of life and they are unlikely to suffer serious injury. Wearing modern shoes for running however is almost a guarantee of getting injured. Wear minimalist shoes if you like, but I'd be doing it more to protect against the cold than the phantom ocean of trash and glass that we apparently wade through every day.
Color movies were a trend. Macs were a trend. Weightlifting was a trend. Paleo is a trend. Some trends I believe become standard.
I would agree with the "too much, too soon" argument, which you could say about every single exercise ever invented. I would transition first to a minimalist running shoe for a few weeks.
Also pay attention to where you are running. Concrete should be avoided but rocks can be awesome! My favorite place to run barefoot is on dirtbike tracks.
I wouldn't focus on the potential problems of barefoot running as that only supplies excuses not do do it.
I've now ran a summer and a half barefoot, starting in August 2010. Did a 10K race barefoot last September. Where I live there is glass on the ground here and there on the asphalt sidewalks, but it's pretty easy to avoid by just simply keeping your eyes open. Running barefoot on grass is not a good idea, since you never know what sharp objects can be hiding in there!
I love running barefoot on asphalt, concrete and other hard surfaces. When you really are barefoot (as in, not wearing "barefoot" shoes) it's almost impossible to run in a way that causes high impact on your knees and other body parts. Of course it's not "natural" to run on concrete, barefoot or not, but it's really not dangerous either if you know what you're doing.
So I don't think glass and hard surfaces are legitimate dangers, but stress fractures and other "too much too soon" injuries definitely are. Go to any barefoot running forum and you'll find dozens and dozens of threads about people going too far to fast and getting injured. Read a book (I recommend 'Barefoot Running Step By Step' by Ken Bob Saxton), start slow, and you're good to go!
OK, this may get a little long as it is something that I have become kind of passionate about recently. I have to say that I am kind of surprised by how many people on this thread seem to have a knee-jerk "it's too dangerous" or "yuck" reaction to going barefoot. After all, this IS the way we were meant to be, right? Of course you can injure yourself if you jump straight in to running barefoot or in minimalist shoes without the proper preparation - just like you would if you went to the gym and tried to lift twice your bodyweight the first time out or did a headstand in your first yoga class ever. And until the skin on your feet becomes more leathery, (like it should be) obviously you need to be more careful and take it slow.
I have been 90% shoeless for the last 6 months or so - and yes, that is in a major city. And I'm sorry, but, contrary to popular belief, the streets are NOT liberally strewn with broken glass. Also, a piece of glass generally lays flat and unless it is stuck in a crack sticking straight up it is not going to penetrate your foot. What little bit I see is easily avoided and/or is small enough that it is really not an issue. And what makes people think that natural surfaces are any less hazardous anyway? A sharp piece of gravel can hurt you just as much as that feared bit of glass and tree roots can be just as treacherous as broken or heaved sidewalks. Gotta tell you, acorns and acorn caps are a LOT more likely to give you a cut or bruise and we have a LOT of oak trees around here. But not being insulated from your environment and feeling all the different textures can be just really cool and interesting. Once you have done it for a short while, you will find that you don't even have to consciously watch where you step as carefully as in the beginning because you develop a sense for it. The main thing that I see is that my pain from serious knee osteoarthritis is much less and I don't have nearly as many backaches now either when I walk or stand around a lot.
My usual recreational walking trail is a sidewalk around a small lake with lots of dogs as well as geese and ducks. This means a fair amount of poo to be dealt with also. But, I figure that's what soap and water is for, right? And how often have you stepped in some without even realizing it until you smell it in your house later that night and have to go around smelling all your shoes to find it? (yuck - grin) At least I pretty much know it right away ... (ooh, squidgy). I wash my feet as soon as I get home - so at least once a day - how often do you wash your shoes?
As for the concrete issue, I haven't found it much harder really than a lot of natural surfaces in the "real" world like hardpan, rock and hard-packed soil. The only time I am careful on it is when my feet are wet as they are a bit softer then and some pavements are kind of abrasive. Saying that we didn't evolve to walk on surfaces like that and therefore our feet need the protection of shoes is a bit of a red herring as far as I'm concerned.
The last point I want to make here (for right now at least) is to suggest something to think about. That if you wear "normal" shoes for the major part of your day and then try to go for a run barefoot or in something like VFFs, then you are kidding yourself and risking injury. And why does it seem to be that everyone is so concerned about "barefoot running" and its risks or benefits when they are not considering the same for all types of daily living/walking?
If barefoot is good, then it is good - and not just for exercise.
I think that bare feet are incompatible with most modern surfaces. I would never run barefoot where I am, since concrete is hard and loaded with glass. The open spaces are rocky and treacherous, and the infrequent soft shady spots are littered with poison oak. Park grassy surfaces are littered with pop tops and dog poop. I enjoy a walk, but not having to watch every single step. If I had my own huge and wild open space, I would go barefoot more often.
One of the main issues I've come across is that runners are people who like their distance and like to pound out miles and like "the burn", whatever the hell that is. If you're switching over, you have to start at square one. Period. There's no way to power yourself into barefoot running, and these folks end up injured, resentful, and claiming that barefoot running isn't legit. Ugh.
I was somewhat lucky to have had a knee injury last year, and when I recovered enough, I decided to start out with barefoot running. I was glad to have an excuse to go nice and easy. These days, I'm happy to hop along a trail for 30 minutes 1-2 times a week, trying not to shake my head at folks out for their long run of the week.
God, I'm such an arrogant bastard. Paleo did this to me!
I don't know if you have ever seen the show "Monsters Inside Me", but it puts a whole new spin on going barefoot period!
They had this guy on there that contracted a parasite by not wearing shoes. The only activity he did was walk outside to his mailbox everyday barefooted! He contracted this terrible parasite that almost killed him.
I haven't gone barefoot (outside) since watching that show.
I almost broke my foot trail running in my Vibrams - I've never hurt a foot so badly before, and I spent my youth barefoot and outside.
So these days, on rougher terrain I prefer to walk/run literally barefoot, because it makes me much more careful. Of course this takes some time and conditioning of my soles. I break them in on concrete, it feels fine.
I also wear the most minimalist shoe possible at my job, which involves standing on concrete floors all day, and I have no foot/leg/back pain ever. I shudder when I think of the old days when I wore special thick-soled work shoes/boots religiously to waitress... god my feet killed then (and I was only in my early 20s!).
I posed a question about my plantar fasciitis several months ago as my ortho, a very trusted friend (weightlifting training partner) basically told me the additional ROM in my gait from wearing VFF's created a fairly severe muscular imbalance, and that if I was to continue wearing barefoot style shoes, I needed to not neglect my stretching and especially my weight training.
I've just started wearing them again after a few months off. I also warmed up to wearing them by walking around my neighborhood completely barefoot. The problem with the vibrams and other minimalist shoes, is that many people get them to walk barefoot, when really they need to re-teach themselves to walk barefoot first. In the vibrams and other minimalist shoes, the impact is still lessened and you don't correct your gait. By spending a few hours "re-learning how to walk" you'll make your life a lot easier in the long run.
And whatever you do, don't buy a pair of VFF's then decide they are the only shoes you take to Disney, where you walk 12-13 miles or more a day... without first acclimating to a more natural gait.