Running in Shoes Vs. Barefoot Kicks up Debate

Dear Dr. Donohue: If I’m not mistaken, you wrote about how the foot should land when running, and you favored the heel as the place to plant the foot. I also remember you not favoring barefoot running. Would you reconsider these issues? Barefoot running decreases runners’ injuries, and landing on the heel increases them.

Dear W.W.: The proper way to first strike the ground when running and the question of barefoot running are contentious matters.

Both issues are addressed in the April issue of Exercise and Sport Science Review. One is a short article by Walter Herzog, and the other is by Daniel Liberman, who has done a great deal of work in evaluating the benefits of barefoot running.

Walking and running are things that are rarely taught. We learn them instinctively. When they are taught by coaches and others, they generate a great deal of controversy. Running in shoes is said to contribute to the great increase in overuse injuries in the feet and legs. Barefoot running appears to lower the injury rate.

According to some, shoes dampen proprioception, the subconscious ability to maintain balance and alter stride from signals sent to the brain from the feet. Shoes also encourage a running form where heel strike is favored. And they seem to contribute to weak and inflexible feet.

Barefoot running corrects these problems. The bare foot is vulnerable to obstacles on the running path, but calluses form on the balls of the feet.

When the feet are not in shoes, a person almost instinctively strikes the ground with the balls of the feet. Impact on the foot from such a landing greatly lessens forces that are transferred to both the feet and legs. That is thought to be one of the reasons why barefoot runners have fewer injuries to their feet and legs.

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Dear Dr. Donohue: I am a professional swim instructor and have been teaching swimming for many years.

I would like to know about water intoxication in small children. I don’t think parents should put their child under water in swimming lessons until they are at least 2 years old, as they can swallow lots of water.

Dear D.C.: Water intoxication occurs when anyone, regardless of age, takes in too much water. The excess water leads to brain swelling. The situation is urgent. Corrective measures have to be taken quickly.

The American Academy of Pediatrics used to say that 4 should be the age that children learn how to swim. It has now lowered the age to 1 year.

People instructing such young swimmers must have had professional training and know how to keep such young infants safe.