The Barefoot Running Injury Epidemic

Written by Matt Fitzgerald Competitor.

Darwin Fogt, PT, owner of Evolution Physical Therapy in Culver City, CA, is alarmed by a stark new trend at his facility: runners with injuries caused by barefoot (or virtually barefoot) running. Fogt says he has four or five current patients with heel injuries clearly resulting from a switch to barefoot running and has recently treated another 12 to 15 others.

“That’s up from zero a year ago,” says Fogt.

Other physical therapists and sports medicine doctors across the country are seeing the same sudden rise in barefoot running injuries.

“We’ve seen a fair amount of injuries from barefoot running already, or from just running in the Vibrams,” says Nathan Koch, PT, Director of Rehabilitation at Endurance Rehab in Phoenix, AZ. Vibrams are the barely-there “foot gloves” that have become popular among barefoot running devotees.

Steve Pribut, a Washington, DC podiatrist and one of America’s most respected running injury specialists, says he has experienced a recent influx of barefoot runners at his office as well. And, asked by email whether he could confirm a barefoot running injury trend in his clinical experience, Lewis Maharam, a.k.a “Running Doc,” replied with two words: “Oh, yeah!”

The Thing To Do

The developing barefoot running injury epidemic is plainly a secondary effect of the rise in popularity of barefoot running. “Everyone is reading Born to Run and wanting to run barefoot,” says Pribut, referring to the bestselling book by Christopher McDougall that is widely credited with starting the barefoot running trend.

What is not known is whether barefoot runners are now disproportionately represented in physical therapy and sports medicine facilities—in other words, whether barefoot runners are more likely to develop overuse injuries than shod runners. Koch and Pribut are not ready to say that this is the case. “The more barefoot runners there are, the more injured barefoot runners there will be,” says Pribut, who attributes the spike primarily to the burgeoning number of barefoot runners.