A new trend in running and jogging has popped up recently, called barefoot running. Barefoot running is a popular and growing trend that is just what it sounds – running without shoes. Before deciding to do any running without shoes, it's best to understand how this kind of running affects the feet.
Running without shoes changes the motion of running. Most running is done by landing on the heel of the feet. Running barefoot requires a different way of running; in a barefoot stride landing is done on the front part of the feet. Because of this, the impact shifts from the heels to the front feet. Runners also shorten their strides to create a softer landing.
Running barefoot does have its advantages. When running and landing on the front feet, the impact on the feet and ankle is reduced, which may reduce the incidence of stress injuries. It strengthens muscles in the feet, and also strengthens muscles in the ankles and lower legs that aren't usually worked. Overall balance of the body is improved and there is greater sensory input from the feet to the rest of the body, making overall position and motion less stressful on the body. It has been found that in countries in which some of the population regularly wear shoes and some do not, numbers of foot and ankle injuries are much higher in those who wear shoes.
People hearing about barefoot running for the first time are skeptical about it, and there are good reasons for skepticism. Running barefoot certainly has its drawbacks, the obvious being no protection of the feet when running. This makes it likely that when runners land on sharp or rough objects, scrapes, bruises, and cuts on feet will result. Blisters will form when beginning this kind of running especially, you may have plantar fascia problems. Landing on the front feet constantly also increases the risk of getting Achilles tendonitis.
So what can runners do to make barefoot running safe? It’s best to make a slow transition from running shoes to barefoot running. The body is used to wearing shoes so to slowly transition to bare feet, start by walking barefoot for a distance and then increase walking distance. Once the feet begin to adjust, try walking and then jogging and gradually increase the distance. If you have foot problems talk to the doctor first before attempting barefoot running. When starting out, it may also be helpful to begin by running on pavement or other consistent surfaces to avoid sharp or rough objects. Minimalist running shoes may also be an option, as they allow for many of the benefits of barefoot running while also protecting the feet from cuts and scrapes.
Podiatric biomechanics is a particular sector of specialty podiatry with licensed practitioners who are trained to diagnose and treat conditions affecting the foot, ankle and lower leg. Biomechanics deals with the forces that act against the body causing an interference with the biological structure and focuses on the movement of the ankle, the foot and the forces that interact with them.
At some time in our lives we will all experience foot problems, regardless of our lifestyle or age, and we all take our mobility for granted until we are in pain. Twists or turns can cause problems and apply stress to the feet, and that pain will spread from the foot structure to the surrounding tissues. The pain will concentrate in the foot and ankle, but may eventually spread up into the knees, hips and back.
The history of biomechanics dates back to the BC era in Egypt where evidence of professional foot care has been recorded. Afterwards, during the first century AD, corns on feet were recorded as specifically growing on feet and toes. In 1974 biomechanics gained a higher profile from the studies of Merton Root, who claimed that by changing or controlling the forces between the ankle and the foot, corrections of conditions could be implemented to gain strength and coordination to the area. His basic principles of thermoplastic foot orthotics are still in use throughout the industry today.
Modern technology improvements are based on past theories and therapeutic processes providing a better understanding of podiatry concepts for biomechanics. Computers provide accurate determinations about the forces, movements and patterns of the foot and lower legs with the most important information captured. Today’s knowledge of detailed measurement of external and internal forces in the foot is critical to the individual’s treatment. Like most health industries, precise determinations assist the practitioner in diagnosing and prescribing the best treatment for health improving results.
Advances in materials and more awareness of biomechanics have developed enhanced corrective methods, offering further options for foot-related injuries. Shoe orthotics options have expanded to treat walking inability, helping to realign the posture deviations caused by hip or back health occurrences. Attention to posture and foot mechanics uses individual insoles to position the foot, aligning the ankle and leg. The corrected positioning comforts the pressure and helps to ease the pain. Understanding foot biomechanics can help improve and eliminate pain, stopping further stress to the foot. However, these results can only happen if one seeks a podiatrist who specializes in biomechanics.
Similar to well-known nerve disorders in the hands, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve disorders that affect the foot and ankle occur in patients for reasons ranging from stress to genetics. Nerve disorders of the foot should be addressed right away because they may be immobilizing in serious cases. Two of the most common nerve disorders of the foot and ankle are Interdigital Neuroma and Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.
Interdigital Neuroma is caused by localized inflammation of one of the nerves that controls toe sensitivity in the frontal area of the foot. This inflammation is generally only found in the second or third interspace, and any other symptoms similar to Neuroma on other digits should be checked against other disorders. Symptoms include chronic burning or tingling sensations between the affected toes which can, at times, migrate to the toes themselves. This pain is often increased by walking, running, or by wearing shoes that compress the toes, such as high heels. A doctor should be consulted if this pain is chronic and if the symptoms get worse.
Typical examinations to determine the presence of Neuroma include radiographs, MRIs, and even bone scans of the affected area. Bone scans are only required if degeneration of bone is suspected, however. Surgery is often not required to alleviate the symptoms of Neuroma, and in many cases functional orthotics can be used to alleviate the stress of constant weight on the affected toes. Surgery is recommended for those patients that suffer from symptoms for 6 months or more, so reporting symptoms early can increase the rate of non-surgical recovery.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, a condition that is less common than Interdigital Neuroma, is similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in that it is caused by a compression of the nerve caused by any number of factors (mostly associated with excess pronation). Typically seen in those that have either flatfeet or valgus heel positions, Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome has patients complaining of moderate to severe ankle pain that starts along the bottom of the foot and often proceeds to the calf. Some more extreme cases occur with partial numbness and even atrophy of the foot and surrounding muscles.
If there is a good chance that someone has Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, an EMG test is often used to diagnose the condition. If the diagnosis is positive, an MRI can be used to identify the compression of the nerve. Treatment with NSAIDS, functional orthotics, and rest off of the feet is often prescribed, but again, long standing symptoms require surgery, as do exacerbated symptoms caused by lesions present between nerves.
Hammertoe is a painful deformity of the second, third, or fourth toe, frequently caused by improper mechanics—the way a person walks or the shoes they wear that do not allow room for the deformity. Similar to mallet toe and claw toe, hammertoe involves different joints of the toe and foot. Shoes that are too narrow or short for the foot, or have excessively high heels, can cause of hammertoe. Improperly sized shoes force the toes into a bent position for long periods, causing the muscles to shorten and bend the toes into the hammertoe deformity.
Other causes of hammertoe may be complications from RA (rheumatoid arthritis), osteoarthritis, trauma to the foot, heredity, or CVA (cerebral vascular accident). Symptoms of hammertoe include, but may not be limited to, pain and difficult mobility of the toes, deformity, and calluses or corns from toes abrading one another.
A patient experiencing symptoms of hammertoe should seek examination by a physician, specifically a podiatrist. Podiatrists diagnose and treat disorders of the foot. If the doctor finds the involved toes have retained some flexibility, treatment may involve simple exercise, physical therapy, and a better fit to shoes worn by the patient. Treatment often targets controlling the mechanics, such as walking, that cause hammertoe by using custom orthotics.
In more advanced cases, where the toes have become rigid and inflexible, the doctor may suggest surgery. The operation would consist of incising the toe to relieve pressure on the tendons. The doctor may re-align tendons and remove small pieces of bone in order to straighten the toe. The insertion of pins may be necessary to fix bones in the proper position while the toe heals. Usually the patient is able to return home on the day of surgery.
If surgery is necessary, it is important to follow the postoperative directions of your physician. Theses may include various stretches, attempting to crumple a towel placed flat against your feet, or picking up marbles with your toes. Striving to wear shoes with low heels and ample toe space will ensure healthy feet and toes. Avoid closed shoes and high heels. Laced shoes tend to be roomier and more comfortable. Shoes with a minimum of one half inch space between the tip of your longest toe and the inside of the shoe will provide adequate space, relieve pressure on your toes, and prevent hammertoe from re-occurring.
Some tips on feet may include purchasing shoes at mid-day as your feet are smaller in the morning and swell as the day progresses. Ensure that she shoes you buy are both the same size and have the store stretch shoes at painful points to provide for optimum comfort.