I previously wrote about the lack of evidence that supports barefoot running despite all the claims you still see appearing in the crankosphere blogosphere that there is a lot of scientific research that supports barefoot running (there isn’t). It is that lack of evidence in the context of all the claims that there is evidence that landed Vibram FiveFingers in hot water with the class action. There is also a declining interest from runners in barefoot/minimalist running. To add to all the evidence that has accumulated about barefoot running and related topics, we now have this review of that evidence from the British Journal of Sports Medicine:
Barefoot running: an evaluation of current hypothesis, future research and clinical applications
Nicholas Tam, Janie L Astephen Wilson, Timothy D Noakes, Ross Tucker
Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092404
Barefoot running has become a popular research topic, driven by the increasing prescription of barefoot runing as a means of reducing injury risk. Proponents of barefoot running cite evolutionary theories that long-distance running ability was crucial for human survival, and proof of the benefits of natural running. Subsequently, runners have been advised to run barefoot as a treatment mode for injuries, strength and conditioning. The body of literature examining the mechanical, structural, clinical and performance implications of barefoot running is still in its infancy. Recent research has found significant differences associated with barefoot running relative to shod running, and these differences have been associated with factors that are thought to contribute to injury and performance. Crucially, long-term prospective studies have yet to be conducted and the link between barefoot running and injury or performance remains tenuous and speculative. The injury prevention potential of barefoot running is further complicated by the complexity of injury aetiology, with no single factor having been identified as causative for the most common running injuries. The aim of the present review was to critically evaluate the theory and evidence for barefoot running, drawing on both collected evidence as well as literature that have been used to argue in favour of barefoot running. We describe the factors driving the prescription of barefoot running, examine which of these factors may have merit, what the collected evidence suggests about the suitability of barefoot running for its purported uses and describe the necessary future research to confirm or refute the barefoot running hypotheses.
I would urge all those with access to the BJSM to read it as it does give a good review of the current state of scientific knowledge on barefoot running. As its not a research paper, there is not a lot to comment on from me. The only comment I will make, is that there has obviously been more research on the topic published since these authors would have submitted their review for publication. If they were to include them, it would have only strengthened the conclusion that they made. As for the conclusion, they were quite emphatic, concluding:
We have described the rationale, the biomechanical justification and two of the crucial unknown aspects of barefoot runing. It is clear that little is known about barefoot running and injury and performance. The current promotion of barefoot running is based on oversimplified, poorly understood, equivocal and in some cases, absent research, but remains a trend in popular media based solely on an evolutionary/epidemiological hypothesis and anecdotal evidence. Here, we have described that while the evolutionary hypothesis may be credible, it assumes a great deal and cannot by itself be the justification for barefoot running. In terms of biomechanics, it is clear from current evidence that barefoot running influences the body acutely, and likely has a significant impact on kinetic and kinematic factors associated with injury. However, no causal relationships, and the high variability and complexity of both injury and barefoot running make this justification tenuous.
Finally, we suggest that barefoot running may be a skill that is not instinctively acquired, but that requires substantial practice in order for the body to adapt. Even then, it is unclear how this adaptation may occur, and whether every runner can achieve it. The process of adaptation needs to be clearly understood before training and clinical advice is disseminated to athletes.
In conclusion, there remain more questions than answers at present. Future research may elucidate some of these answers, but current advice, based on tenuous justifications and associations between biomechanical factors and injury do not by themselves constitute a compelling argument for barefoot running. It may be that the running technique is more important, and so further research must distinguish between barefoot running and characteristics of barefoot running that may be implementable for shod running.
Yet another review concludes the same as all the other reviews. What I don’t understand is why in the crankosphere blogosphere they still keep talking about all the scientific evidence that supports barefoot running, but the reviews of the scientific literature all reach the conclusion that there is not the evidence … go figure!
As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise, and my understanding of the body of literature that underpins barefoot running means I concur with the conclusions that these authors made. Why is it that the barefoot evangelists see so much evidence and the rest of the world don’t see that?
POSTSCRIPT: Aonther review published: Evidence that barefoot running is better? …. part deux