Barefoot running shoes have helped spur a recent surge in the popularity of barefoot-style running. Advocates of barefoot running believe that it is more natural than wearing shoes and therefore likely to prevent many painful foot and leg injuries related to running. Other people object to this idea, pointing out that modern running shoes absorb the impact of each step, therefore reducing stress on your joints while running and doing a better job of preventing injuries. So who is right?
Recently, a study addressing this very question concluded that barefoot shoes may not deliver all the benefits they promise. In the course of the study, people who already ran 15 to 30 miles per day were gradually transitioned to wearing barefoot shoes. After 10 weeks, most of them had developed level 2 or level 3 edema (accumulation of fluid in the foot bones indicating stress and early bone injury). A few runners even had actual stress fractures (level 4 edema). By contrast, the control group for the study, wearing their regular shoes, had level 1 edema, a condition which is considered healthy and indicates that the foot is responding to training.
If you want to try barefoot running shoes, be very careful! Transition slowly, running just a mile or so at first. Also, be aware of the types of surfaces you are running on. Barefoot shoes may be better suited for cross country running on grass or earth rather than city running on hard pavement. If you experience foot pain, switch back to your regular shoes and take a break. Put your feet up and read a good book or play a round of blackjack online for a few days before you get back to running.