Physical therapy instructor Carey Rothschild works with students at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Credit: UCF/Abi Bell
the shoes Bikila was given for the race didn’t fit comfortably, he
ditched them for his bare feet. After all, that’s the way he had trained
for the Olympics in his homeland.
shoeless led to success for Bikila, and now, more than 50 years later,
runners are continuing to take barefoot strides. Several Olympic runners
have followed Bikila and nationally the trend has exploded over the
past decade. There’s even a national association dedicated to barefoot
running. However, scientists are stuck on whether it either prevents or
may have been on to something,” said Carey Rothschild, an instructor of
physical therapy at the University of Central Florida in Orlando who
specializes in orthopedic sports injuries. “The research is really not
conclusive on whether one approach is better than the other. But what is
clear is that it’s really a matter of developing a good running form
and sticking to it, not suddenly changing it.”
a 12-year runner who has completed the Boston Marathon three times,
reviewed research and found injuries happened with or without shoes. So
she conducted a survey with the help of the Track Shack in Orlando to
get to the bottom of the controversy.
What she found was striking.
people said they turned to barefoot running in the hopes of improving
performance and reducing injuries. Ironically, those who said they never
tried it avoided it for fear it would cause injuries and slow their
However, research shows that there are risks to running no matter what someone puts on his or her feet.
Barefoot runners tend to land on their mid or forefoot as opposed to the heel, which good athletic shoes try to cushion.
studies suggest that barefoot running causes a higher level of stress
fractures on the front part of the foot and increased soreness in the
calves. But runners who wear athletic shoes can also suffer everything
from knee injuries to hip problems, related to repeated stress from
impact forces at the heel.
“There is no perfect recipe,” said Rothschild, a resident of Winter Park.
In a paper publishing in the August edition of the Journal of Strength And Conditioning,
Rothschild reviews the research and provides a guide for those who want
to explore barefoot running as a way to train for marathons. It’s a
10-12 week program that slowly eases people who run in shoes onto their
suggests getting a thorough physical examination and biomechanical
assessment from a physical therapist or other trained professional so
that strength and flexibility deficits can be identified and addressed
first. That should be done before gradually transitioning to bare feet.
bottom line is that when a runner goes from shoes to no shoes, their
body may not automatically change its gait,” Rothschild said. “But there
are ways to help make that transition smoother and lower the risk of
researcher concludes that barefoot running in and of itself is neither
good nor bad. As with running in shoes, proper training and conditioning
However, Rothschild does offer a warning.
with lower extremity or deformity or with a disease that creates a lack
of sensation on the feet should probably avoid barefoot running because
they can’t necessarily feel injuries resulting from running on hard