I am sitting here at this very moment wearing a pair of Nike Free 3.0 shoes that I purchased somewhere around 2005. These shoes are designed to mimic barefoot running as best as possible in a traditional shoe. The sole is very flexible, the frame offers almost no structural support, and overall the shoe is extremely light. They are the most comfortable shoes I own. When I coach baseball, I prefer either to wear my Nike Frees or go barefoot altogether. I don't run for exercise, as the idea of it seems phenomenally boring to me, but if I did I would probably go barefoot.
And I would never, ever recommend barefoot running to anyone else. Why? Well, here's the summary of the Daniel Lieberman study that futilelord cited.
"Our research asked how and why humans can and did run comfortably without modern running shoes. We tested and confirmed what many people knew already: that most experienced, habitually barefoot runners tend to avoid landing on the heel and instead land with a forefoot or midfoot strike. The bulk of our published research explores the collisional mechanics of different kinds of foot strikes. We show that most forefoot and some midfoot strikes (shod or barefoot) do not generate the sudden, large impact transients that occur when you heel strike (shod or barefoot). Consequently, runners who forefoot or midfoot strike do not need shoes with elevated cushioned heels to cope with these sudden, high transient forces that occur when you land on the ground. Therefore, barefoot and minimally shod people can run easily on the hardest surfaces in the world without discomfort from landing. If impact transient forces contribute to some forms of injury, then this style of running (shod or barefoot) might have some benefits, but that hypothesis remains to be tested." - Daniel Lieberman, et. al.
This statement is a lot different than what futilelord is claiming. First off, they were not challenging the "conventional wisdom" that humans were poorly suited for running. Anyone who has done any work on anatomy and physiology knows that the humans are well-suited for that work. The study was trying to figure out "how and why" humans have historically been able to run long distance without running shoes. What Lieberman and friends discovered was that the way runners land determines the amount of impact force, independent of whether or not the runner was wearing a shoe. I will restate that again for emphasis: the study states that it does not matter whether you run barefoot or shod, so long as you run in a particular way. The study also makes no connection between impact force and injuries, suggesting only that that hypothesis needs to be tested (though one would expect this to logically be the case). Note also a key phrase in the summary: "experienced, habitually barefoot". In citing evolutionary biology, futilelord has in effect ignored (for whatever reason) the anthropological arguments that Lieberman included.
Simply put, though we may be evolutionarily well-designed for barefoot running, we are anthropologically conditioned against it. Part of this is living in a modern, technological society, one in which sedentary lifestyles are the norm, food is plentiful and cheap, and obesity is an epidemic. There are literally millions of people in the United States alone who, in their current state of physical fitness, should not even attempt running, and there are relatively healthy people who run five miles every morning and then go slouch in a chair for eight hours with arms extended haphazardly over a keyboard and mouse. This, and not the shoes that they wear, is what causes running injuries. Everything that we do with our bodies contributes to our (poor) biomechanics, including things as small as leaning closer to a computer monitor to see better, or bending over to pick something up instead of bending at the knees. Ergonomic habits, good or bad, become ingrained in muscle memory and the skeletal system.
This includes wearing shoes. Shoes came about long before Nike and Reebok, long before capitalism. Shoes protect our feet from the elements - jagged rocks, cold snow, wet rain, thorny bushes. This is why they were originally invented, not to cushion our heels and certainly not to make money. Shoes also, perhaps imperceptibly to some, change the way that we move. Our footfall changes from one where we strike the front of the foot first to one where we strike heel first. That's if a change occurs at all - in modern civilization, shoes are part of the wardrobe from infancy, so our footfall in most cases is dictated by our footwear even as we learn to walk. Getting rid of the shoe doesn't immediately and permanently change it back, any more than quitting smoking is going to immediately result in clean lungs and an apartment that doesn't stink.
That's where the folly lies. It's not that barefoot running is better or worse than shod running. It's that shod running is a lot better for people who need heel cushioning, even if that need was caused by the fact that they wear shoes. If they want to switch to barefoot running, they should probably talk to a personal trainer, physical therapist, kinesiologist, or someone who has a clue about what effects the switch is going to have. The problem, as best as I can tell, is that the barefoot running community is a little bit like the vegan community in terms of the religious adherence to doctrine. If someone tries out veganism and goes back to eating meat because they suffer from a B-12 deficiency, the community immediately recoils into a sort of self-protecting attack mode, explaining all of the things that the apostate did wrong, because it's simply not possible that a non-vegan diet is better for some people. The same arises with barefoot running. Plantar fasciitis is overwhelmingly the most common barefoot running injury. It's generally caused by exerting too much force on the heel, which is (surprise) how a lot of runners who have worn shoes all of their life happen to run. When they return to shoes, the barefoot running community immediately rushes to blame the injured, again because it's simply not possible that barefoot running isn't for everyone.
That's really the only purpose for this rebuttal. I honestly couldn't care less if shoe companies are lying to me, although I don't particularly think that they are, at least not any more than any other company lies to me through its advertising. The point I'm trying to make is that if barefoot running works for you, that's awesome. And if you want to tell everyone else how great it is, and what the purported benefits are, and suggest that they try it, that's awesome too. But it's irresponsible to make a thesis statement that something is "damaging the human body" when there is no factual basis for that claim, and it's irresponsible to misrepresent a scientific study in an attempt to support that evangelical belief, and it's even more irresponsible to suggest without evidence that a large segment of society is actively working to damage the human body through propaganda. Changing the way we run, not what's on our shoes, is what's going to protect our body the best.
Since there's been an addendum added since I posted this node, and since it confronts me directly, with a link to the chatterbox archive, I will respond in kind. If you are uninterested in the back-and-forth bantering of two people on the Internet, feel free to skip this section.
From the addendum: I'll add this addendum since so many of you missed the point. No where in this wu do I explicitly tell people to take off their shoes and go running barefoot.
If so many people missed the point, I would argue that the point was not clearly stated. But futilelord is correct - nowhere in the writeup does he explicitly tell people to take off their shoes and go running. However, if one were to start a writeup with the sentence "CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES ARE POISONOUS," one could infer, without having the need for it to be explicitly stated, that the author was telling us to stop eating chocolate chip cookies. So let's not play the I-never-said-that game.
From the addendum: If you look to the wu I have Specifically about barefoot running you will see that my conclusion in that paper is that form is more important than shoes, with the caveat that shoes with large heels can, and very often do, make running with proper form very difficult.
Futilelord is again correct here. In his barefoot running writeup, he discusses that the shoe design itself may change the way a runner runs. You'll notice a few things, however, if you read the above writeups. First, he makes no mention of this previous essay, nor does he even provide a link to the barefoot running node. Second, I said the same thing in my own writeup, but expanded the scope of what causes a change in gait - it's all shoes, not just running shoes. Finally, the point expressed in that essay is not expressed in this one, and in fact, just the opposite is - running shoes damage the human body.
From the addendum: You seem to be of the opinion that people wear shoes all their life, so "oh well just suck it up and keep wearing them you're already obese and stuck in your ways." I feel that that is irresponsible, and that people can change their ways.
It may seem that way from what I wrote, but my point wasn't to say that out-of-shape people shouldn't exercise, because they should, after talking with a doctor and hiring a personal trainer and establishing a fitness plan. Few people who start exercising do any of this. Futilelord's essay infers that running shoes are what causes injuries. I don't believe that to be the case, so I was presenting another option - that people who are out of shape or fat are probably prone to injury because they aren't suited for running. Neither futilelord nor I have substantial evidence to back our claims up.
From the addendum: My citation of the Lieberman paper was not to imply that the study was purposefully challenging "conventional wisdom" but that this study points out the fact that humans are good at distance running. Your misreading of my intent I can only attribute to an honest mistake.
Actually, my reading of the Lieberman paper was that futilelord was constructing and tearing down a straw man, which is why I pointed out that anyone with experience in anatomy and physiology could tell you this. The human foot is the most complex part of the skeletal system, and the foot has far more nerve endings than most other parts of the body. It's obvious that the foot was designed for running. Using the "humans aren't designed for running" argument just seems so blatantly stupid that I find it hard to believe it's an argument that anyone has actually used to support the need for running shoes. If that's not the case, I apologize.
From the addendum: However I feel you are in error when you say that I my thesis statement is not backed up by science. I have given multiple citations that support my position all of which are scientific articles. Your ad-hominem attacks by equating what I feel to be a well supported argument for something, into nothing more than evangelical proselytizing, are both out of line, and unfounded. Your entire refutation of my argument amounts to your opinion. Which you are entitled to, but don't accuse me of bad science in general terms that don't address anything specific.
OK, let's examine futilelord's citations and let's get specific.
Richards, et. al. - This was not a scientific study. It was a database search to find scientific studies that were done to prove that running shoes reduce injury. The search came up empty. Lack of proof for one position does not equate to proof of the opposite position.
Hirschmüller, et. al. - This was a study of 51 subjects to determine the effectiveness of orthotics. The study showed that subjects who received orthotics reported better comfort than those who did not. The study conclusion was that custom-made shoes are "an effective conservative strategy for chronic running injuries". None of the subjects in this study ran barefoot, nor was any attempt made to assess whether or not running with running shoes caused damage to the human body.
Kerrigan, et. al. - This was a study of 58 subjects to determine the difference in joint torque when running barefoot vs. running shod. The study showed a marked increase in joint torque while running shod. But the study also made certain to point out in its conclusions that joint torque is not equivalent to joint force, and that their method of analysis (3-dimensional gait analysis) has limitations (I won't go into them here, but they're readily available on the Internet). This is as close as any of the five citations comes to linking running shoes with damage to the human body.
Robbins, et. al. - This was a study of 12 subjects to determine stability and vertical impact when landing on different types of surfaces. There was no running involved, nor did any of the subjects perform any actions while wearing shoes - all of the exercises were performed barefoot. The study determined that vertical impact could be decreased and stability increased by making the landing surface (both the shoe and the surface it lands on) more rigid.
Lieberman, et. al - This study has already been discussed. The conclusion was that the method of running, rather that the presence or absence of the shoe, dictated the impact force.
So, five citations were provided, and not a single one of them tells us that running with running shoes is damaging to the human body. What this says to me, which I already know from external research on the topic, is that there is very little scientific evidence to support futilelord's thesis statement. Taking the available data and concluding that running with running shoes is damaging to the body may result in the correct conclusion, but it's bad science (his words, not mine). It's not even an implication that correlation implies causality. It's the implication that a number of small studies that are only tangentially related implies causality. Yet three of futilelord's last five write-ups are about barefoot running, so there's a certain fervor to what he's writing about. So it may sound like an ad hominem attack to him to say that it's an evangelical belief, but I honestly believe it's a valid criticism. Find me a long-term, sizeable, peer-reviewed cohort study that shows a statistically significant difference in injury rate between running barefoot and running shod, and I'll be more than happy to recant my statement.