Does Barefoot Running Cause Sore Arches?
After hearing all of the hype about barefoot running, you found yourself giving it a try. After a week or two of running shoe-free, you may have noticed an aching feeling along the bottom of your foot, both during and after your runs. If you experience sore arches when running barefoot, you are not alone. However, most often it is related to doing too much too soon without your shoes. In many cases, sore arches and other foot aches can be avoided with some key recommendations for barefoot running.
Most people, especially if they have been running in shoes, plant their feet by landing on their heels first. Their weight then shifts foward in the foot and they push off from the front of the foot. As this happens, their foot often rolls in slightly, too. This is called pronation. Some pronation is normal, but overpronating can lead to discomfort in the feet, lower legs and knees. Barefoot running is supposed to minimize over-pronation because runners tend to land more forward on their feet. However, changing your running style does not happen automatically by changing what you wear or don't wear on your feet.
Many people tend to continue running in the manner they did with shoes when they go barefoot. So, while you may be trying to decrease your risk of injury by running barefoot, you actually may make yourself more prone to foot concerns if you do not change your running mechanics.
Reduce Your Volume
Many runners can avoid arch soreness by following a proper progression to barefoot running. Start off by just walking barefoot a few days a week. When you start running, cut back to 25 percent or less of your regular training volume. If you are used to running four hours a week, start off with only one hour of barefoot running or less per week. Also, keep each session shorter than usual and initially decrease your speed. These guidelines will help your feet adjust to not wearing shoes and slowly will strengthen muscles in the foot that previously were not recruited as much.
Change Your Style
Changing your running style, especially if you've been running in shoes for a long time, is not easy, and it probably won't happen overnight. You want to teach yourself to become more of a forefoot striker. Start to focus on taking shorter strides and press your hips forward without arching your back. Have a friend videotape you running, zooming in on your feet, so you can visualize how your foot is really landing.
If you have high arches, wear orthotics or have any other foot concerns, it is a good idea to consult a medical specialist about barefoot running. If you've just started running barefoot, while softer surfaces such as grass and sand may seem inviting for the soles of your feet, these less stable surfaces may actually put more of a strain on your feet and ankles. Wait until you have built up some strength and endurance in your foot muscles before going for a barefoot run on the beach.
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Christine St. Laurent holds a Master of Science in kinesiology from James Madison University. She has worked in hospital, university, sports performance and spa-based fitness and wellness centers as a personal trainer, program leader and group fitness instructor. St. Laurent has also taught college-level courses in exercise science. She is the owner of a personal-training and group-exercise studio in Manchester, Conn.