What are barefoot running shoes? Are they better than traditional running shoes?

Answers from Edward R. Laskowski, M.D.

The latest trend among runners, barefoot running shoes look more like gloves than shoes. Indeed, they're often called "five toe" shoes. Inspired by a growing enthusiasm for barefoot running, barefoot running shoes are lower to the ground, lighter and less cushioned than conventional running shoes. They're designed to provide some protection for your feet while offering some of the desirable aspects of barefoot running.

Traditional running shoes emphasize stability and cushioning, with thick soles and elevated heels. But there's no evidence that these shoes prevent injuries, and in some individuals they may actually increase injury risk.

Although barefoot running does carry risks, shoeless runners may avoid some of the potentially harmful forces that conventional running shoe wearers experience. However, more research is needed, and research is ongoing regarding the potential benefits and risks of barefoot running.

If you're happy with your current running shoes, there's no need to change. If you want to experiment with barefoot running shoes, ease into it. Make sure to find a shoe that's appropriate for your foot, and choose softer and more-forgiving running surfaces at first, such as a cushioned track. Several types of barefoot-inspired shoes are available.

Also talk to a sports medicine specialist or foot doctor before beginning barefoot running, especially if you've had injuries or foot problems in the past.

Jul. 30, 2014 See more Expert Answers