Barefoot running injury concern

Bare foot running
Image caption Bare foot running - good or bad?

The trend for barefoot running could lead to injuries in some runners, a small study suggests.

The way you run is more important than whether you wear running shoes or not, say scientists in Taiwan.

The rationale behind barefoot running is to move in a more natural way, with the front of the foot hitting the ground first.

But not all runners manage to adopt this style, putting added strain on muscles, scientific data suggests.

Claims that human feet are naturally designed to run bare on the ground, not in modern cushioned running shoes, have led to many runners trying out barefoot running.

A study, published in Gait & Posture, looked at the effects of different striking patterns for both styles of running, to assess the likely impact on running injuries.

Sports scientists at National Taiwan Normal University tested 12 male runners on a treadmill.

After a warm-up they were assessed while running in one of four ways - barefoot landing heel first, barefoot landing forefoot first, and the same styles while wearing trainers.

Tests were carried out to look at their gait, muscle activity and the likely impact on running injuries.

The scientists found that runners can gain more shock absorption by changing their striking pattern to a forefoot strike, either in shoes or without.

Runners who are used to wearing shoes may, however, be more susceptible to injuries when they run barefoot if they carry on running with the heel hitting the ground first.

Yo Shih and colleagues write: "Habitually shod runners may be subject to injury more easily when they run barefoot and continue to use their heel strike pattern."

Alex Bliss, a sports scientist at the University of Brighton, said the study suggested that changing the mechanics of your stride - from heel strike to toe strike - alters the demands placed on the muscles in the calf and shin.

"This would perhaps suggest that foot strike pattern plays a critical role in muscular activation of the lower leg musculature, regardless of footwear or barefoot," he told BBC News.

"However, the study does have limitations in that it employs small subject numbers of [unreported] cardiovascular fitness and training background, and also comprises of running at a single speed of 9km/h [5mph]."

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