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


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2017 - Volume 49 - Issue 4 - p 752–762
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001141
Applied Sciences

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.

1Department of Sports and Exercise Medicine, Institute of Human Movement Science, University of Hamburg, GERMANY; 2Department of Orthopaedics, Balgrist University Hospital, University of Zurich, Zurich, SWITZERLAND; 3Department of Sport Science, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, SOUTH AFRICA; and 4Institute of Sport Science, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, GERMANY

Address for correspondence: Karsten Hollander, M.D., Department of Sports and Exercise Medicine, Institute of Human Movement Science, University of Hamburg, Turmweg 2, 20148 Hamburg, Germany; E-mail: karsten.hollander@uni-hamburg.de.

Submitted for publication June 2016.

Accepted for publication October 2016.

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© 2017 American College of Sports Medicine