Long-Term Effects of Habitual Barefoot Running and Walking: A Systematic Review

Karsten Hollander, Christoph Heidt, Babette C VAN DER Zwaard, Klaus-Michael Braumann, Astrid Zech
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2017, 49 (4): 752-762

INTRODUCTION: Barefoot locomotion is widely believed to be beneficial for motor development and biomechanics but are implied to be responsible for foot pathologies and running-related injuries. Although most of available studies focused on acute effects of barefoot running and walking little is known regarding the effects of long-term barefoot versus shod locomotion. The purpose of this study was to systematically review the literature to evaluate current evidence of habitual barefoot (HB) versus habitual shod locomotion on foot anthropometrics, biomechanics, motor performance, and pathologies.

METHODS: Four electronic databases were searched using terms related to habitually barefoot locomotion. Relevant studies were identified based on title, abstract, and full text, and a forward (citation tracking) and backward (references) search was performed. Risk of bias was assessed, data pooling, and meta-analysis (random effects model) performed and finally levels of evidence determined.

RESULTS: Fifteen studies with 8399 participants were included. Limited evidence was found for a reduced ankle dorsiflexion at footstrike (pooled effect size, -3.47; 95% confidence interval [CI], -5.18 to -1.76) and a lower pedobarographically measured hallux angle (-1.16; 95% CI, -1.64 to -0.68). HB populations had wider (0.55; 95% CI, 0.06-1.05) but no shorter (-0.22; 95% CI, -0.51 to 0.08) feet compared with habitual shod populations. No differences in relative injury rates were found, with limited evidence for a different body part distribution of musculoskeletal injuries and more foot pathologies and less foot deformities and defects in HB runners.

CONCLUSIONS: Only limited or very limited evidence is found for long-term effects of HB locomotion regarding biomechanics or health-related outcomes. Moreover, no evidence exists for motor performance. Future research should include prospective study designs.

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