There’s a lot of talk these days about barefoot running – referred to as “BFR” in the running community – so we’ve decided to see if there’s any feedback or ruling that says BFR is better, worse or indifferent for feet “blessed” with bunions.
Some brands, such as Asics, are kind enough to lend a line of shoes to bunion sufferers. Bunion windows and wide toe boxes do help, but maybe it’s best to just throw out the traditional shoe and let those toes run free. The popular flavor of BFR shoes these days seems to be the Vibram Fivefingers (VFF), shown below.
Here’s a few of the opinions we’ve found in the world of Barefoot Running;
- Barefoot is Better. Some critics go right to the source: Why do we have bunions? Could they be attributed to flat arches or improperly working foot muscles? Of course, some feet are just genetically predisposed to bunions, but just as with all predisposed conditions, there are things that can be done to prevent them and/or their progression. Believers in BFR think that by strengthening the muscles and ligaments, the toes can be made stronger and eventually rehabilitated. They believe in working with the hand you’ve been dealt by nature by trying BFR with bunions.
- Blame the shoes! Some think that most modern running or PECH shoes [Pronation control, Elevated, Cushioned, Heel (a.k.a. all shoes)] convert most runners into “heel strikers,” which is terrible for shock and pounding. If you ever tried jogging around in a member of the BFR shoe family you know it’s very uncomfortable to land on your heel. Additionally, these same folks think that most casual or dress shoes (certainly high heels) have a tendency to elevate the heel just slightly over the level of the ball of the foot. This puts unnecessary and unwanted additional pressure on the front of the foot, which is the possible cause of many of today’s common foot ailments. This group votes “no shoes” and seem to think traditional shoes are the root of all foot evil. If BFR shoes allow you to ditch all the poor positioning achieved in modern shoes, then believers in this school of thought are all for it.
- No Shirt, No Shoes… These nay-sayers think one should never try barefoot running, firmly believing that even “healthy” feet (defined as those without excessively high arches; those that don’t belong to diabetics; and those free of significant deformities including bunions, hammertoes, and other bone problems) should avoid BFR. Running barefoot forces you to hit the
ground first on the ball of your foot rather then the heel. If you are susceptible to bunions, this might exacerbate the condition due to the impact on the forefoot. Well, at least you’ll save the $120 that you would have otherwise thrown down for the VFFs … unless, that is, you bought the NIKE Free Run+, which emulates barefoot running without the “barefoot,” a nice change of pace if you’re trekking down gravel or uneven terrain.
Between the two schools of thought, I’d say the jury is still out. It would seem that just by separating the big and second toe, BFR could reduce some of the pressure against the second toe and, as long as you’re not piling on the miles, could actually work to help you improve your gait, which has likely been modified due to the new position of the big toe. One thing is for sure: Barefoot running isn’t for everybody – and certainly not barefoot running with bunions.