How Barefoot Running Shoes Work

Should you be using barefoot running shoes?

Not everyone agrees that you should ditch your arch supports and thick soles. There's a real risk of plantar fasciitis (and other injuries) from the greater stress you're placing on your foot while running in minimalist shoes. Podiatrists also note that not all feet are created equal; runners with medical issues such as numb spots, flat-footedness, high arches, or other problems should not even try running in barefoot shoes [source: Ignelzi].

The newest studies show that barefoot shoes may not offer many benefits in terms of form. Instead of naturally helping you find your "true" form, they may simply shift stressors to other parts of your body, resulting in injuries [source: Reynolds]. In short, you may find what many (former) barefoot runners already have -- minimalist shoes can be a hazard instead of a help.

In additional to declining minimalist shoe sales, companies have suffered other difficulties. Vibram, which helped popularize minimalist shoes, settled a class-action lawsuit by paying nearly $4 million in early 2014. As part of the settlement, the company is required to stop touting health or strength benefits of its barefoot shoes until it can produce scientific proof. To date, it hasn't.

Yet in spite of that PR setback, there's no doubt that plenty of runners have found success and comfort in barefoot running. If you want to try barefoot running, consider talking to a podiatrist to see if there are any issues with your feet that would cause an increased risk for injury with minimalist shoes. If you get the go-ahead, transition slowly using barefoot running shoes to avoid doing nasty things to your feet. Start with shoes that have limited arch support and padding, and maybe go with a smaller drop in the sole. There's no set time schedule for this transition. Listen to your body.

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