Can running barefoot prevent injury?

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Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013 3:58 pm | Updated: 4:41 pm, Wed Jul 3, 2013.

A Wake Forest University study finds up to 65 percent of runners suffer an overuse injury each year. More and more are looking for new ways to avoid these aches and pains.

Now, there's one trend that some swear by, but you may have to say goodbye to what many consider to be the most important piece of running gear.

Mike Funk runs about 15 miles every day, but what's even more impressive is how he does it.

Mike's been running barefoot for five years. He believes it prevents injuries. "I run a lot lower to the ground, bend my knees more, shorten my stride."

He says he's able to run longer and farther than he ever did in shoes, but his feet sometimes pay the price. "A tiny, tiny sliver of glass that got into my foot."

Physical Therapist Carey Rothschild, who's also a runner, has studied the barefoot trend extensively. "One of the biggest reasons that people are interested is that they are hoping it's going to help prevent injury."

A Harvard study showed that may be the case. Researchers found runners with shoes tend to strike with their heels, while barefoot runners land on their mid-foot, which causes less impact. But Rothschild says scientists don't know if that translates into fewer injuries. “I think the jury's still out. We don't know for sure."

Rothschild says it's important to take it slow if you decide to go barefoot. You can start with the popular "minimalist" shoes. Your skin will need at least three to four weeks at 30 minutes a day before it will adapt. Also, stretch your calves often to improve ankle range of motion. "So gradual, gradual, gradual. That can't be overstated enough."

Mike logged over 2,500 miles last year, all barefoot! "People will stop and turn around and say, 'do you need a ride?' and I'm like, 'do I look like I need a ride?' I'm not carrying a gas can or anything!"

The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine states, because of a lack of studies the public should work with their doctor before deciding to incorporate barefoot running into a training program.

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