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I have been told by the doctor that barefoot walking is good as long as it is on a rugged surface (grass, gravel, sand, ...) but I should not walk barefoot on a pavement or home.

Simultaneously, there is advice encouraging bare foot running for flatfooters. The arguments are that it encourages the runner to land and take off the front part of the leg, instead of the heel, thus reducing pronation during the running session itself and strenghtening the calf, thus preventing further pronation.

My problem is that I live in an area, where it is impossible to find a long enough patch of rugged surface. All my running sessions are approximately 4 km, out of which only 1.5 is on a rugged surface, the rest is on pavement. I have been running for 2 months barefoot, so far so good, but I would like to know the long term effect of this.

Is there some research on the topic? Do you have some personal experience?

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Here is an excellent site with a lot of research: barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu –  michael Sep 13 '12 at 3:18
@michael thanks for the link. A friend of mine who is an orthopedic surgeon said when I asked him about the theory of improving flat feet with barefoot running that the idea sounds plausible but it will still be many years before we have enough medical data to prove it. –  vertti Jan 31 '13 at 7:31
@michael: How about expanding that into an answer? The question seems to have attracted a lot of answers that probably aren't very reliable because they're accounts of individuals' experiences. –  Ben Crowell Nov 27 '13 at 16:26

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I've been doing some barefoot running on pavement as a way to help with flat feet and pronation. For awhile I tried to increasing the distance but then I started to feel some minor aches under my foot and on the outside of my ankle. My biggest fear was developing a stress fracture so I've since limited the barefoot run to 5 or 10 minutes as a warm up and then I'll do my regular run using minimalist shoes.

I've heard of people running much longer distances without any problems. For me, I can tell that the barefoot runs are helping improve my form and address some of issues related to over pronation, but I don't think everything has adjusted yet to the point where my foot can absorb the impact forces of landing on the road as well as a normal pronator. I've written about some my experiences with this here: www.somastruct.com.

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I don't like my feet being closed in inside shoes so I wear Barefoot Feet for both walking and running. One reason I like them is because they are made out of wetsuit neoprene material which means I can run and walk through puddles and don't ruin my expensive sneakers.

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This doesn't answer the question of whether running barefoot is beneficial or detrimental. –  Matt Chan 1 hour ago

Running on soft surfaces helps strengthen feet muscles and tendons and that's why it is considered highly beneficial by some podiatrists (given that weak feet are one of the main causes of fallen arches) What's more, a part of the essential foot stretches for flat feet includes gripping objects and stretching your feet over them so you can see how running on sand/gravel/soil barefoot acts like a natural stretching exercise which also strengthens key muscles and tendons. However, if you over do it, it may cause more harm than good.

On the other hand, running on pavement gives your feet a lot more impact force to absorb, thus presenting a more straining activity to your feet. Then again, is certain cases barefoot running on hard surfaces might be more beneficial than on soft. You need to remember that there are never two identical organisms and two identical conditions. The best thing you can do is experiment and for that you need to know how your feet specifically react to running.

If you find hard surfaces to be too painful, there are numerous brands and types of arch supporting shoes which have, once again to be picked by your personal characteristics. Here's a really long descriptive tutorial on how to do that - http://happyrunningfeet.com/the-best-running-shoes-for-flat-feet-3-critical-tests/

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I have very flat feet, and i have started barefoot/VFF running a couple of years ago. I have no problems running 10-15 miles on concrete and or pavement. In fact, it is easier for me after the winter, when my feet get tender and feel all those little rocks and roots too much. I may carry my VFFs or Altra Adams in my fanny pack in case the surface gets too hot or too cold.

The only problem I keep getting again and again is that my soles get kind of hard, and sometimes they crack a little bit. Kerasal softens them in a few days.

Also I think that whenever we need to run barefoot in the darkness, it is safer to run on paved surfaces, even if we carry headlamps.

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I have extremely flat feet and have been barefoot running several years, usually on dirt trails. Although I can't say that the flatness has been affected, I do notice less soreness and faster recovery than when I ran with shoes. At one point I had trained up to three miles at a stretch, then tried a ten mile race on pavement, which gave me sore achilles and calves for 24-48 hours. But while running barefoot I have never had any stress fractures, shin splints, knee pain, nor any cuts or puncture wounds for that matter. I highly recommend it, with a proper gradual introduction of course.

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If you're running short distances I don't think it'll be much of a problem, especially if you can choose your route. Where it's really a problem is if you're running a long distance race with a fixed course and you're forced to deal with a slant on the path that only goes in one direction - that's hell on the ankles, knees, hips, and well everything. That's one situation where having a cushion to absorb the height difference a bit could actually be a benefit.

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