Barefoot Running May Be Unbearable for Older Runners

More runners have taken on barefoot running, the act of running without shoes, in recent years. While this may be fine for young runners, a new study presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons instructs older runners to beware.

Photo via CNN


Barefoot running encourages the balls of the feet, between the arch and toes, to hit the pavement first. The study revealed that a significant portion of experienced runners, age 30 and older (40 percent of men and 20 percent of women) maintain a heel-first running pattern when barefoot running. This technique may lead to more frequent injuries.

When it comes to running techniques, “you can’t teach an old dog (or rather foot) new tricks.”

Scott Mullen, MD, the study’s lead author, went into further detail.

“Our study indicates that older runners (age 30 and older) are not able to adapt as quickly to running barefoot,” said Dr. Mullen. “The inability to adapt the foot strike to the change in shoe type may put these runners at increased risk of injury. Older runners should be cautious when transitioning to a more minimalist type of shoe.”

How did Dr. Mullen come to this conclusion? A team of researchers from the University of Kansas Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine took 26 runners, all age 30 or older with ten years of running experience or more, and measured their heel-to-toe drop in a traditional running shoe, and again barefoot.  They measured each participant’s heel and forefoot thickness at running speeds of 6, 7 and 8 miles per hour (mph) for women, and 7, 8 and 9 mph for men.

Only 40 percent of the men and 20 percent of the women measured consistent strike patterns across all speeds with and without shoes.

Visit the AAOS website for the full study.