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Barefoot Running

20/11/2016 by Pivotal Motion
Running without protection can cause foot pain. If you live in Newmarket, Windsor or Ashgrove & experience sore feet visit us at Pivotal Motion Podiatry.

One of the most contentious issues facing podiatrists and runners over the last few years has been the phenomenon of barefoot and minimalist running. A recent attendance to a workshop held by La Trobe University’s podiatrist and biomechanist Craig Payne has stimulated a few blog entries surrounding the subject.

This blog entry will be the first of a series discussing various aspects of minimalist running, and sharing what current industry trends and research have to say about training and running in minimalist footwear.

Barefoot Running Herston

For those outside of the running circle, the last few years have seen a market increase in minimalist running footwear. Minimalist footwear attempt to replicate what is considered to be a more ‘natural’ running pattern for the foot. This is typically achieved through footwear designed to maintain a minimalist approach in support and cushioning.

True barefoot running is just that – running without any protection or support. This can be a difficult practice to maintain outside the safety of a treadmill due to the risk of injury from unknown surface debris and resulting injury or foot pain. Therefore, some sort of covering is generally required. From the perspective of minimalist running, running shoes can be classified into four (very broad) categories:


Easily the most recognisable minimalist shoes on the market are the Vibram 5 fingers, which have the appearance of a brightly coloured glove for the foot. These shoes are made with the bare minimum of materials to encourage the foot to function as though it were not covered at all.

Other styles: Merrell Glove, Vivobarefoot.

‘Moderate Minimalist’.

A step up to the barefoot runners, the most recognisable of this category would include the Nike Free runner. The super flexible sole is the hallmark of this category of shoes. By definition, a minimalist running shoe will be low to the ground, have minimal raise at the heel, be very simple in design, and flexible.

Other styles: New Balance Minimus, Altra Instinct.


Follows the trend of having a low heel raise and maintaining an extremely lightweight design, however the sole of these shoes is typically more robust, providing a firmer, solid platform to run on.

Styles: Brooks Pure Connect, Saucony Kinvara.


Without a doubt the most common shoe category, comprising approximately 90% of the running shoe market share. The different technologies and brands are deserving of a blog entry of their own, as there is a substantial amount of variability in technology and workmanship amongst the regular running shoes. Whilst each individual brand style has its own profile of cushioning and support, the general profile of these shoes includes a rigid heel counter, a firm sole, a cushioning system, a heel raise between 10-15mm from heel to forefoot, and may or may not include a reinforced arch support.

Styles include: Mizuno Nirvana, Adidas Supernova, Asics Kayano, Brooks Beast, New Balance 1080, the list goes on…

As a general rule, the less there is to the shoe, the more minimalist it becomes. A number of organisations promoting minimalist running have come under scrutiny and criticism of late by making unfounded health benefit claims through the transition to minimalist running.

A very recent study identified increases in bone marrow oedema – an indication of bone stress and precursor to stress fracture which can result in foot pain – in participants who transitioned into Vibram barefoot runners over 10 weeks when compared to runners wearing traditional running shoes.

There are a number of important messages that may be derived from the results of this study. As with any activity change, there is a very real, very serious potential risk and foot pain involved. The mechanics of running are different with minimalist footwear compared to supported footwear, and as such there is a change in the amount of force placed upon the various structures of the foot. Any decision to transition to barefoot running should be made carefully, with a detailed training plan in place. It is recommended that a consultation with a podiatrist be made in order to establish the suitability of minimalist running shoes for your foot profile, as well as to develop a safe training plan.

Personally I do not have a particular stance for or against minimalist running. In saying that, I acknowledge that there are always inherent risks involved with any activity which require acknowledgement before the activity is commenced. I encourage anyone who is considering making the change from supported running to minimalist to seek counsel through a variety of unbiased, professional sources before commencing training.


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